CUMBERLAND — A new University of Maryland study provides guidelines for the use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas development in Western Maryland, a study Sen. George Edwards says answers many of the questions surrounding the practice.
“In my opinion, the study lays the groundwork for the commission’s work,” Edwards said. The senator was referring to the governor’s advisory commission on Marcellus Shale drilling for natural gas.
The study made recommendations on the future of natural gas drilling. It was completed by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg.
“A scientific team led by Dr. Keith Eshleman surveyed best management practices that have been adopted and proposed in other states. The team researched industry standards, reviewed governmental regulations and advisory commission reports, visited well drilling sites in adjacent states, and consulted with experts in relevant fields,” according to the study introduction.
Among the recommendations were to develop regulations to support drilling plans to efficiently exploit the gas resource while minimizing the most significant negative impacts.
The preparation for drilling should be extensive, according to the report, including the selection of sites for well pads based on a pre-drilling environmental assessment and hazard mapping, and requiring two years of monitoring data prior to drilling, including groundwater testing and inventories of wildlife, according to the report.
Best practices are also a key point of the report.
The state should “require operators to adopt the American Petroleum Institute’s ‘Recommended Practices’ for maintaining well integrity and containing gas and other fluids within the well’s infrastructure,” according to the report.
Further, regulations should require a closed-loop drilling system on site for handling drilling fluids, hydraulic fracturing chemicals and wastewaters to provide the lowest risk of contaminant leakage and greatly reduce impacts on downstream aquatic ecosystems, such as brook trout streams.
In order to get the gas that is trapped in the shale to the surface, chemicals, water and sand are pumped underground to break apart rock formations and free the gas. The process is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
The University of Maryland report can be accessed here: http://www.umces.edu/al/node/7783.
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