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Fracking bill deep-sixed

An update on an earlier post - the bill calling for a two-year study of natural gas drilling in western Maryland's Marcellus shale deposits is dead.

Drew Cobbs, a lobbyist for the natural gas industry, said he was informed recently that the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee has given up on trying to forge a consensus on the bill, HB852/SB634. A committee staffer confirmed it.

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Cobbs, director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, said what killed the bill was the O'Malley administration's insistence on limiting the ability of state regulators to approve natural gas wells after the first year of the study.

Talks between the gas industry, legislative leaders and the administration had yielded a tentative agreement to ban any drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for the first year of the study.

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Industry representatives had wanted the Maryland Department of the Environment free to approve drilling and natural gas production after the first year if regulators felt they had learned enough by then about what safeguards to impose to prevent potential environmental impacts of the drilling technique.

Administration officials, though, wanted the bill to allow only limited "exploratory" drilling in the second year, without any gas production -- even though, Cobbs contended, regulators already have ample authority to hold up permits if they feel they need more information.

Two requests for permits to drill in Garrett County have been under study by MDE now for more than a year.

Without a bill, the state still is publicly pledged to study the impacts of "fracking" for up to two years, but there will be no fees collected - more than $1 million worth - to help pay for the study.

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