Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 1, 2014

Fracking bills remain active in Maryland legislative committees

Governor’s commission members say they need more time to study process

CUMBERLAND — State legislators continue to consider bills that could further delay drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale of Garrett and Allegany counties.

The Allegany County Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on the issue with letters to committee leaders considering the bills.

An  attempt to outright ban all fracking for gas was killed by a Senate committee earlier this session.

The Shale Gas Drilling Safety Review Act of 2014 has been introduced in both the House and Senate of Maryland’s General Assembly. A hearing on House Bill 1122 took place Friday in the House Environmental Matters Committee. Senate Bill 745 was heard in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The chamber letter urged legislators to “allow the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission to complete its work ... and present its findings and recommendations before proceeding with applicable legislation.” The letter was signed by Stuart Czapski, executive director of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, and E. William DuVall II, the chairman of the chamber’s legislative committee.

The bill would require Maryland Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources to “issue a risk assessment of public health and environmental hazards relating to hydraulic fracturing activities with specified information and classifications of risk,” according to the bill’s summary provided by the Department of Legislative Services.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission is expected to finish its work by the end of the year, including developing proposals for safe gas development.

Supporters of the legislation say more time is needed to study the potential impacts and dangers of fracking. The Baltimore Sun reported that three members of O’Malley’s commission support having more time for further study.

The bill would, if it became law, have impacts on local governments and businesses.

“Local severance tax revenues and other revenues associated with general economic activity decrease for Allegany and Garrett counties, potentially beginning in FY 2015, to the extent that the bill delays the development of gas resources that would occur in the absence of the bill,” according to the bill’s summary. The local business effects would depend on the nature of the business.

“The bill may have ... adverse impact on small businesses engaged in providing services related to hydraulic fracturing and the development of natural gas resources to the extent the bill delays such development. The bill may have a ... beneficial impact on small businesses in Western Maryland reliant upon tourism to the extent that the development of natural gas resources would impact the levels of tourism in the area; however, any such impact is unclear.”

Hydraulic fracturing, which would be required to extract natural gas from Western Maryland’s Marcellus shale formations, would have been banned outright by Senate Bill 360.

In order to get the gas 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.”

Marcellus shale formations throughout the eastern United States harbor large natural gas resources. The shale formations in Maryland are located only in Garrett and Allegany counties.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at

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