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An Oklahoma-based energy company has applied for the first permits to drill for natural gas in Marcellus shale deposits in Western Maryland, the state Department of the Environment said Thursday.

MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said state regulators are reviewing applications from Samson Resources Co. of Tulsa to drill at four sites in Garrett County. When the department determines that the applications are complete, the state will notify adjacent property owners and the public and invite comments and requests for a hearing. State regulators are evaluating whether the company needs to obtain state permits to withdraw water for use in drilling, and to discharge wastewater from the operation.

Shale deposits underlying much of the Appalachian Mountains have long been known to contain potentially large amounts of natural gas, but tapping it was not considered economically feasible until recently. Drilling companies now hope to tap the gas by means of a technique called hydraulic fracturing, in which water is pumped into the shale and then pumped out, drawing the gas with it.

The technique has raised concerns in other states about chemical spills, pollution of nearby streams with contaminated wastewater, and the potential for fracturing to deplete or contaminate wells that supply drinking water.

Apperson wrote in an e-mail that the Maryland Department of the Environment has been consulting with regulators in Pennsylvania and New York about their experience in overseeing drilling for gas in Marcellus shale deposits there. He said state officials plan to review the Western Maryland applications with an eye toward protecting ground and surface water.

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