Maryland to hold series of public meetings on future of fracking

Maryland is holding three public meetings on fracking, with a ban on drilling set to expire next year.

Maryland environmental officials are holding a series of public meetings starting Wednesday to discuss the future here of the gas-drilling process known as fracking.

The state is planning to adopt regulations governing hydraulic fracturing by Oct. 1. Officials are preparing for the expiration of a statewide ban on fracking in October 2017.

Meetings are scheduled for:

• 6 p.m. Wednesday at Allegany College in Cumberland, 12401 Willowbrook Road SE, Room CE 12-14;

• 6 p.m. Monday at the Maryland Department of the Environment in Baltimore, 1800 Washington Blvd., first floor conference room; and,

• 6 p.m. June 29 at Garrett College in McHenry, 687 Mosser Road, Room 715.

Fracking involves drilling into shale rock and injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to release natural gas. The Marcellus shale rock formation, which runs through Allegany and Garrett counties from New York to Pennsylvania, is the largest on-shore reserve of natural gas in the United States.

The practice has raised environmental concerns, however, because of the potential risks of groundwater contamination, air pollution and increased earthquake activity. A coalition called Don't Frack Maryland plans to protest at Wednesday's meeting in Cumberland, calling for a permanent ban on fracking in Maryland.

In the waning weeks of former Gov. Martin O'Malley's second term, his administration proposed regulations to oversee any future fracking activity in Maryland.

Gov. Larry Hogan's administration is in the process of reviewing and revising those guidelines.

Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said he expects to please neither environmental advocates nor the energy industry with the state guidelines.

"We are striving for reasonable and balanced regulations with stringent but achievable requirements," he said in a statement. "If no one is entirely happy with the balance we're seeking, we are probably on the right track."

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