Metal well casings stored near a rig drilling for natural gas in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Metal well casings stored near a rig drilling for natural gas in northeastern Pennsylvania. (Kenneth K. Lam)

With New York's governor banning hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in that state, environmental groups are calling on Maryland's lawmakers to follow suit.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended six years of study in that state and sided with his top advisers in deciding the potential environmental and health risks of "fracking," as it's commonly known, were too great to allow it to go forward there.


The announcement prompted environmental groups to renew their opposition to letting fracking proceed in western Maryland, which sits atop a small slice of the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation stretching from the Carolinas to New York.

"The state of Maryland, which has been debating for years whether to allow fracking in its western counties, should follow New York's lead and adopt a legislative moratorium preventing the practice here," Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley recently concluded after a 3 1/2-year study that fracking could be done safely, but only with safeguards in place against air and ground-water pollution and other problems. His administration has put forward extensive regulations for publication next month.

An O'Malley spokesman said administration officials hadn't had a chance to review the basis for Cuomo's decision, so wouldn't comment. But spokesman Ron Boehmer said the governor stands by his previous statements on fracking. O'Malley called the drilling rules and legislation recommended by his advisory commission the "gold standard" in ensuring "the highest level of protection" for Marylanders.

But advocates argue that recent research - some of it not reviewed by O'Malley's advisory panel - shows significant risks that have yet to be adequately dealt with.

"New York made the right decision," said Dr. Gina Angiola, a board member of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Science now confirms that unconventional natural gas development has the potential to cause both short-term and long-term health impacts, some of which may be irreversible."

Legislation that would impose a temporary moratorium on fracking has died in previous years in Annapolis.  At least some of those voting against it said they didn't want to prejudge the findings of the commission O'Malley had appointed to study whether and how fracking could be done safely.

The decision now seems to lie with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and the next General Assembly. Regulations drafted under O'Malley, a Democrat, won't be final before Hogan, a Republican, takes office Jan. 21.

Hogan has said he sees fracking as an economic boon to western Maryland, where employment and income lag the rest of the state.  He's pointed out that fracking has been going on for years in others states, but he's also said he would want to ensure it's done here safely.