Two bills that would restrict drilling for natural gas in Maryland advanced in both chambers of the General Assembly Friday, setting the stage for another round of debate on how far the state should go to allow a lucrative industry that concerns environmentalists.
One bill would impose strict legal responsibilities on drillers and the other sets a three-year ban on the practice.
The legislation comes as Gov. Larry Hogan continues to mull whether to implement regulations on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, that his predecessor proposed.
The Maryland Senate gave initial approval to a bill Friday that would set some of the strictest liability standards in the state for drilling companies. They would be required to carry lengthy 6-year insurance policies and reveal to the public which chemicals they use to extract natural gas from the ground, among other provisions.
The proposal, by Baltimore County Democrat Sen. Bobby Zirkin, was fought by Western Maryland lawmakers who said it would amount to a de facto ban on natural gas drilling. Sen. George C. Edwards successfully reduced lengthy of time a driller would have to carry insurance to cover damages from 21 to 6 years after the drilling.
That bill now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Later Friday, the House Environment and Transportation Committee approved a separate measure that would put a three-year moratorium on drilling permits to allow for another study. If passed by both chambers and signed into law, it would effectively extend a more than three year moratorium.
The study would examine the health impacts of fracking and the potential economic impact to tourism and farming if a fracking operation contaminated surrounding groundwater.
The bill also would study whether the state should charge drilling companies "severance fees" that would pay to upgrade roads around drilling sites. Local governments already charge such fees, but legislative analysts say they would amount to about $9 million.
"We'll be building all these roads," said Del. Kumar Barve, chairman of the environmental committee that approved the bill. "You can't fill pot holes for nine million dollars."
The full House of Delegates is expected to take up the moratorium early next week.