When Gov. Larry Hogan signed a state fracking ban into law Tuesday, the stroke of his pen might have sent ripples beyond Maryland’s borders.
Environmentalists in Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere are hoping that the action spurs decisionmakers in those states to give the controversial gas-harvesting practice a second thought.
“It makes them kind of sit up and take note and say, ‘Well, Maryland took a long, hard look at this. They have spent years looking at the issue and come to this conclusion,’” said Kristin Davis, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting fluid into shale formations to release natural gas. Proponents say the practice has created jobs, helped drive down energy costs and freed the country from dependence on foreign oil. Opponents say fracking can contaminate the air and water.
Maryland was the first state in which the practice is geologically feasible to ban the practice by law. Hogan, a Republican, surprised the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership when he offered his support for the measure last month.
Fracking opponents are already urging Democratic governors in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania to follow the lead of Maryland’s Republican executive. They are urging Florida’s Republican leadership to do the same.
Chris Warren, a spokesman for the Institute for Energy Research, said he doesn’t expect Maryland’s ban to have any domino effect. His organization promotes free-market approaches to energy policy.
Warren said he sees Hogan’s support for the ban as “kind of a head-scratcher,” given the economic activity fracking has brought to many rural communities.
“I don’t see that translating to other Republican governors, or even Democratic governors,” he said. “I see that as more of an outlier than an upcoming trend.”
But anti-fracking groups say they see Maryland’s action as a step in building momentum against the industry.
“Maryland’s ban on fracking will mark the latest in a series of recent milestones for the anti-fracking movement, each pointing to steadily evolving politics on the issue,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the anti-fracking Food & Water Watch wrote in a blog post last week.
Two counties in Virginia have passed ordinances to ban or significantly restrict fracking, and at least one other jurisdiction is considering joining them.
Republicans led an effort to ban fracking in Florida this year, but it fell short last month.
In Pennsylvania, home to a booming gas industry, residents who are concerned about fracking have now seen neighbors to both the north and the south ban the practice. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlawed fracking via a 2014 executive order.
Diane Sipe, who sits on the board of directors of the Western Pennsylvania anti-fracking group Marcellus Outreach Butler, said she hopes Hogan’s support for the ban prompts Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to at least curtail the growth of the state’s gas industry.
“It shows the public of what’s possible, and hopefully he will come to feel some pressure to do what the people want,” she said.