Before he departs office in January, Martin O’Malley signaled that one of his final acts as governor will be to green-light fracking in Maryland.
On Tuesday, O’Malley’s administration released the draft of a report that proposes regulations for drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland. The report makes clear that fracking is okay in Maryland, as long as it is strictly regulated. In a statement, O’Malley said the report seeks to establish “what many believe to be a gold standard” for environmental and health regulations when it comes to natural gas extraction. With regulations, the report conclude fracking’s risks “can be managed to an acceptable level.”
“This report strikes the right balance, ensuring that Allegany and Garrett counties realize the economic benefits of fracking without sacrificing public health, the environment or the vibrant tourist economy of Western Maryland,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers.
O’Malley’s administration is likely to propose rules that would formally allow fracking next month. But they likely won’t be finalized until O’Malley’s predecessor Larry Hogan takes office. A Republican businessman, Hogan has said he would support allowing fracking in the state.
Fracking is on the table in the Free State because the gas-rich Marcellus Shale sits beneath an area of Western Maryland. While Pennsylvania and West Virginia immediately allowed fracking to get in on the gas boom, Maryland officials opted to study the process. The three-part study released Tuesday was carried out over three years.
While it will likely open the door to fracking, the report doesn’t a paint a purely rosy picture of the industry’s prospects. Take this section on economic benefits:
The amount of natural gas in Western Maryland is small compared to Pennsylvania’s and West Virginia’s holdings, and the economic benefits, especially the jobs, are likely to last only a few years. It is not clear whether the royalty payments would go to Marylanders, because in many cases the mineral rights were severed from the surface rights decades ago. Resource extraction typically operates on a “boom and bust” cycle, and jurisdictions that depend heavily on such industries often fail to diversify their economies, making them especially vulnerable when that industry leaves.
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