Governor Martin O'Malley today signed an Executive Order (Order) establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative. The Order requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in consultation with an advisory commission made up of a broad array of stakeholders, to undertake a study of drilling for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland.
"While we are mindful of the potential economic and energy benefits that could arise from the production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale reserves in Maryland, we are also very concerned about an array of issues that have been raised regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract this fuel," said Governor O'Malley. "Our decisions must be guided by scientific knowledge about the effects of this type of drilling to ensure that we protect public safety and health, groundwater, surface water, and the rural lifestyle and natural resources in Maryland."
Under the Executive Order, the study will be conducted in three parts:
* A presentation of findings and related recommendations regarding the desirability of legislation to establish revenue sources, such as a State-level severance tax, and the desirability of legislation to establish standards of liability for damages caused by gas exploration and production. These findings and recommendations will be made by December 31, 2011.
* Recommendations for best practices for all aspects of natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale in Maryland by August 1, 2012.
* A final report which will include findings and recommendations relating to the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling including possible contamination of groundwater, handling and disposal of wastewater, environmental impacts, impacts to forests and important habitats, greenhouse gas emissions and economic impact. This report will be issued no later than August 1, 2014.
The Study will also include a review of available results from studies on the issue being done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy, the State of New York, and the Delaware River Basin Commission, among others.
Membership in the advisory committee is designed to ensure that the study includes individuals from the drilling industry, Western Maryland where Marcellus Shale reserves are located and members of the environmental community. The advisory commission will include: an expert on geology or natural gas production from a college or university; a private citizen from Western Maryland; representatives from the gas industry and an environmental organization; and representatives from Western Maryland local governments and business.
"I applaud the Governor and his administration for taking this step toward insuring that any drilling in Marcellus Shale or the use of "fracking' techniques in Maryland will be safe for our citizens," said Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the MD House of Delegates' Environmental Matters Committee. "While I acknowledge that the extraction of natural gas is important to our state and country, we must also understand that oil and gas activities, including hydro-fracking, are exempt from many federal environmental laws. Experiences in nearby states have demonstrated that the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and the legislature must set standards to protect our drinking water, land and air when drilling in Marcellus Shale."
"Fortunately, Maryland is taking the time to ensure drilling occurs only after proper safeguards are in place. Given that our drinking water and other natural resources are at risk, and given Pennsylvania's checkered experience with fracking, we applaud the Governor for his leadership on this issue. Maryland has the opportunity to get it right," said Kim Coble, MD Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Marcellus Shale is a geological formation that underlies a large area of the northeastern United States, including portions of Western Maryland. It is believed to contain significant amounts of natural gas, which when burned to produce electricity produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than oil and coal.
The production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale involves deep wells with long horizontal sections and a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Advances in technology have helped spur a dramatic increase in the use of this process in the United States. Exploration for and production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in nearby states have resulted in injuries, well blowouts, releases of fracturing fluids and methane, spills, fires, forest fragmentation, road damage, and evidence of contamination to groundwater and surface water. Other states have revised or are reevaluating their regulatory programs for gas production or assessing the environmental impacts of gas development from the Marcellus Shale.
State law allows MDE to specify conditions that the Department deems reasonable and appropriate in a permit to ensure that an operation fully complies with the law and to provide for public safety and the protection of the State's natural resources. Maryland law requires that the proposed activity be subjected to a formal public review and comment process prior to any permit decision.