The natural gas extraction method known as "fracking" would be banned in Maryland until October 2017 under legislation approved Monday night by the Maryland Senate.
By a 45-2 vote, senators sent the measure to the House, which has passed a version of the bill that environmental advocates believe is stronger. The House bill calls for a three-year moratorium and further study of the health and economic development impact of the practice. The Senate bill does not require a study.
Opponents of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, say the technique has been linked to contamination of water supplies and increased earthquake activity. The natural gas industry and its supporters insist it is safe and credit it with increasing the amount of energy produced in the United State.
The leading Senate opponent of a moratorium, George Edwards of Garrett County, voted for the bill after initially opposing the delay. Edwards called the bill "a good first step" and said it would take at least two years for a company to get a fracking permit even if it applied now.
Gov. Larry Hogan said he would support fracking in Maryland as long as it is safe but has not taken a position on the legislation. Edwards said he believes Hogan is committed to writing "strong rules and regulations" to govern the practice. The senator, who represents the area of the state where fracking is most likely to take place, said the two-year moratorium would give people time to evaluate those rules.
Environmentalists expressed mixed feelings about the Senate vote. Ann Bristow, a spokeswoman for the Don't Frack Maryland campaign, said she was pleased with the moratorium but dismayed by the lack of a study provision in its version.
"We are unconvinced that a regulatory approach can protect Maryland, and we are also disappointed the panel to review the available public health studies on fracking was removed from the original bill," she said.