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While the activity is take place in western Maryland, the subject of fracking was brought home to southwest Baltimore County residents Monday night.

David Vanko explained Maryland's approach to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, during the Southwest Baltimore County Democratic Club's meeting at the Bloomsbury Community Center in Catonsville.

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Vanko, a geologist and dean of the college of sciences and mathematics at Towson University, is chairman of the Marcellus Shale Safe-Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission that is expected to submit its final report in August.

The report is to include findings and recommendations relating to, "the impact of drilling including possible contamination of groundwater, handling and disposal of wastewater, environmental impacts, impacts to forests and important habitats, greenhouse gas emissions and economic impact," according to Maryland Department of the Environment's website.

The commission was created by Gov. Martin O'Malley in June 2011 to study the short-term, long-term and cumulative effects of producing gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Allegany and Garrett counties in western Maryland.

The formation is thought to be the largest gas reserve in the U.S. and contains enough gas to supply the country for 15 years at the current rate of consumption, according to a 2011 report by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers by drilling horizontally into rock and injecting highly pressurized fluid into the ground to fracture shale rocks and release the natural gas.

Advocates for fracking say the valuable resource will bring prosperity to Maryland.

But, some worry that chemicals released by the process will contaminate the environment and drinking water.

"Like with any extraction process, it can be harmful to the environment," Vanko said.

A moratorium halted drilling in Maryland, which will stay in place until the commission submits its final report.

Information about how fracking contaminates ground water is still unknown because the process is relatively new, Vanko told the group.

Methane, an odorless, tasteless gas, can contaminate ground water due to fracking, which can be dangerous because it can accumulate to explosive levels, Vanko explained.

His committee is pushing for additional research on ground water contamination, Vanko said.

Vanko is a Democrat but said, "on this particular issue I'm neutral."

"A lot of people in Western Maryland believe this is a property rights issue. They see this as a natural resource that they have the right to use," Vanko said. "There's an argument on each side of this.

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"I'd like to see a situation where there are no losers," he said. "But that is unlikely to happen."

The Maryland House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee is scheduled to discuss five fracking bills on Friday.

If fracking is allowed to occur in Maryland, Vanko doesn't anticipate it happening for many years, he said after the meeting.

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