The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Maryland and Fracking

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted December 2, 2014

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recent announcement – that he plans to lift the state’s three-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, possibly clearing the way for future natural gas development – is potentially good news for the state, its citizens and America’s broader energy picture.

A new report by the state’s Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources details some of the possible benefits:

  • Garrett County in western Maryland could gain as many as 2,425 new jobs while realizing $3.6 million in tax revenues and $13.5 million in severance tax revenues.
  • Neighboring Allegany County could see as many as 908 new jobs, $1.8 million in tax revenues and $2.3 million in severance tax revenues over 10 years.
  • “Royalty payments to the owners and lessors of mineral rights could provide significant income,” the report says.

Significantly, the department concludes what a number of other states have found and are demonstrating – that advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to develop natural gas and oil from shale and other tight-rock formations can be conducted safely and efficiently. The agencies’ report:

It is the judgment of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources that provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.

Maryland has been a spectator to energy development going on in neighboring states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. That could change with the lifting of the fracking ban and sensible state oversight. Let’s underscore the word “sensible.” Hydraulic fracturing guidelines developed by industry – many of them incorporated into other states’ regulatory regimes – offer a sound approach proved by actual operations.

Let’s hope Maryland chooses such a path. Yet, a recent Washington Post editorial was cautionary:

… Western Maryland landowners looking for drilling royalties and local laborers looking for jobs should check their excitement. The rules that the outgoing governor plans to impose on Maryland fracking would be so tough that they would make it impossible for drilling to begin in the next two years and would diminish the likelihood that operations will happen in earnest after that.

The Post focuses on the need to manage emissions of methane and drilling wastewater. Industry is focused on these areas as well – developing water-saving methods and technologies and working to reduce methane emissions. Indeed, according to EPA, emissions from fracked wells have fallen 73 percent the past three years, even as shale natural gas production soared.

There’s concern, voiced in the Post editorial, that the outgoing governor could establish a “de facto moratorium” on drilling, citing a proposal that would require operators to monitor the environment for at least two years before drilling. This, the Post writes, would be “above and beyond even the expanded background monitoring that the state has already been doing.” The editorial adds:

Of course this sort of information would be interesting and, potentially, useful. But it’s not necessary to run a reasonably safe operation. … It’s past time that Maryland began allowing energy companies to proceed with fracking, with a sensible eye toward safety.

There’s that word again – “sensible.” Safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling could help generate new jobs and grow the state’s economy. In addition, safe and responsible fracking, coupled with construction of a liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point in southern Maryland, could mark the state’s emergence as an important energy center. Opportunity is knocking.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.