ANNAPOLIS – The pace of Marcellus Shale drilling in the Mid-Atlantic region remains low and the best practices are changing rapidly, said Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment Thursday.
The MDE is tasked with completing a study by 2014 on the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Maryland, and received $1.5 million in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget released Wednesday, to do so.
Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, chair of the House Environmental Matters committee, said the study has been “hampered by the lack of resources” and the commission tasked with completing the study cannot function if legislators do not accept its recommendations.
But another committee member, Delegate Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery, said the studies are a waste of resources, which would be better spent on renewable energy.
“We put all these resources into finding gold standards,” Robinson said. “Is anybody going to want to drill and are there going to be jobs anyway?”
Robinson will be introducing a House bill this session to put a ban on fracking entirely. Other legislators are pushing for a moratorium on fracking until the studies are completed.
Drilling has moved away from the region because companies are looking to wells that produce more valuable natural gas liquids and oil, which Maryland does not have, Summers said. Other factors include low natural gas prices, and a lack of pipelines needed for delivering it.
“Our geology is such that our areas are referred to as dry areas,” Summers said. “And the companies are focusing on wet gas at this point.”
The best practices are also changing quickly, creating a challenge for the MDE.
“What might have been the gold standard back a year or two ago would now be deemed inadequate,” Summers said.
The study, which O’Malley initiated in 2011 with an executive order, examines surface and groundwater, air quality, greenhouse gas, public health, economic impact, traffic safety, waste handling, local land use impact and the scope of each applicant’s environmental assessment.