Cumberland Times-News

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June 26, 2013

Marcellus report out for public comment

Valentine thinks language may be too restrictive

CUMBERLAND — An important draft report on the best practices for drilling for natural gas in Marcellus shale, prepared for a state commission examining the issue, has been released for public comment.

Depending on your perspective, the report, if adopted as state policy, would discourage gas development in Maryland or leave too many loopholes for potential environmental damage.

“My fear is they’ve gone to the extent ... that the gas industry will look at the regulations and say ‘no thanks,’” said Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, a member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission. Valentine said he’ll sign off on the best practices report because it was a commission effort and no single member is “100 precent satisfied with the report.”

The report embraces a “gold standard” for drilling practices and will be used to begin framing legislation and regulations for drilling, Valentine said. “Is it to look at best practices or to stop drilling without saying so?” Valentine said.

The draft report was prepared by the Maryland Department of the Environment and the De-partment of Natural Resources.

“Personally, I don’t think you can legislate away all possibilities (for problems),” Valentine said. Personal property rights are also at stake, Valentine said. If property owners cannot make use of mineral rights they own, they should be compensated, Valentine said, just like farmers who give up development rights to their land in agricultural land preservation programs.

“Maryland has only 1 percent of the Marcellus shale but will have the most stringent regulations of any state,” Valentine said.

Valentine said he agrees with doing baseline studies of groundwater so that the information will be available in cases of alleged contamination. Valentine also believes the state should look into dry fracking methods, but he said efforts in that direction have been stymied.

On the other hand, some environmentalists are concerned about the holes in the report.

“The cart has been put before the horse on fracking in Maryland,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “What sense does it make to lay out guidelines for the ‘best way’ to frack for natural gas when the state hasn’t formally inventoried the risks and harm that could come the moment drill bits enter our soil?”

CCAN and other groups — including Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited and Western Maryland-based Citizen Shale — contend that no best management practices report can be legitimate until a full risk assessment study has been completed, a press release from CCAN states.

The best practices report is to a large extent based on a study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg.

“A scientific team led by Professor 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,” the study introduction stated.

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 predrilling environmental assessment and hazard mapping, and requiring two years of monitoring data prior to drilling, including groundwater testing and inventories of wildlife.

The current draft report makes recommendations including comprehensive gas drilling plans to minimize the amount of surface disturbance; a prohibition against well pads in certain sensitive areas; setbacks from property lines, buildings, cultural and historical sites, state and federal parks, trails, wildlife management areas, wild and scenic rivers, scenic byways, drinking water wells and surface intakes for drinking water; and recycling of flow back and produced water to the maximum extent practicable. Other practices are also recommended. The complete report may be accessed at the MDE website, www.mde.state.md.us/.

Comments on the draft report can be submitted by email to Marcellus.Advisory@maryland.gov or by mail to: Brigid E. Kenney, Senior Policy Adviser, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21230.

Comments must be submitted by Aug. 9. A final report will be released after all the comments have been considered.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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