The General Assembly has key decisions to make this year on the controversial practice of fracking, years before it is likely to begin tapping gas from shale in the state.
Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said she is in the process of filing several bills that would affect the hydraulic fracturing of rock to mine natural gas, including a proposal that would place a 2 percent tax on the transfer of oil and gas leases and sales of mineral rights.
Her measures would require oil and gas companies to disclose detailed information about their operations in Maryland on a public website, said Mizeur, who is among 14 members of a state advisory commission.
Although western Maryland contains just 1 percent of the massive Marcellus Shale formation and mining of the gas likely is several years away, the issue is hot throughout the region, as fracking takes place in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Concerns have emerged about the impact of fracking on the water supply and air quality, while proponents have argued the huge quantities of natural gas in the shale could help meet the nation’s and state’s energy needs and create many jobs.
The Department of the Environment, Department of Natural Resources and the advisory commission have been weighing in with recommendations as part of a three-stage study Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) mandated through an executive order in June.
Mizeur wants to require companies to post data online that includes the chemicals and their concentrations used in fluids that are injected in a horizontal shaft to fracture the shale and allow gas to migrate to a well for capture.
Also, she said, she wants the information to include the amount of water used in the fluid, as well as where it came from, and how and where it was reused or disposed of, plus daily drilling and incident reports and weekly production reports.
Additionally, the legislation would require companies drilling for gas to notify the Department of Environment and Department of Natural Resources within 24 hours of any incident that affects the environment. And, it would create a central registry with complete lease information, paid for with filing fees.
The advisory commission’s first recommendations, issued in December, called for companies to pay a fee on gas leases to fund studies.
The studies are to determine what measures are needed to protect the state and its residents from harm, as companies move toward capturing natural gas trapped 3,500 to 7,000 feet below the surface.
Mizeur and Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda want that fee to be $10 per acre.
Addressing a seminar on shale fracturing sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday, state Sen. George C. Edwards said that from his district, where all of the gas shale deposits are located, "you could throw a rock and hit wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania."
"We're going to be the last ones in Marcellus to do anything [with fracking] and that's all right, we're going to do a great job," said Edwards (R-Dist.1) of Grantsville.
Still, that proximity worries some, including Del. Shane Robinson (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, who has filed legislation that would prohibit transporting wastewater from fracking operations into Maryland, as well as storing, treating discharging or disposing of it inside the state.
Bills already have been filed or are in the works to impose a "severance" tax on gas produced. The tax would be used to monitor and remediate impacts of shale gas drilling that cannot be attributed to a particular company or in cases where the companies responsible are insolvent.
The advisory commission, appointed by O’Malley, backed imposing such a tax but did not endorse a rate.
Also on the table is a bill that would establish the legal presumption that damage to the water supply or property was caused by gas mining operations if they occur within a certain zone around a gas well and time past drilling — unless shown to be unlikely.
Although MDE has only one active application for a shale gas well, about 127,000 acres have been leased for the purpose in Garrett County, according to a map the county has compiled, MDE spokeswoman Smantha Kappalman said.
Edwards joked Tuesday that there’s potential that so much wealth underfoot "could produce a lot of Jed Clampetts."
The commission report urged the legislature to enact a Surface Owners Protection Act, and Mizeur said she wants to make sure landowners enticed by the promise of money aren't taken advantage of by companies eager to get at the resource.
To that end, she wants to require the companies to disclose risks and notify landowners of their rights before leases are signed.
"I believe landowners shouldn't be kept in the dark when Wall Street investors are being told what the risks are," Mizeur said.
On Wednesday, a group of shareholders filed resolutions through the Investor Network on Climate Risk pressing companies with shale gas interests — including Chevron and Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy — to disclose their plans for managing environmental and workplace risks from hydraulic fracturing.
Citing recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that suggest links between fracking and water supply contamination and small earthquakes in other states, Mizeur said, "I think a lot of people realize Maryland's go-slow approach was wise."