After more than two years, Maryland continues to study if it can and should allow companies to drill for natural gas in its western counties.
But a push by a Virginia company to export natural gas from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay has drilling for natural gas causing pains on both sides of the state and the political aisle.
Candidates for governor are starting to line up on both sides of the issue.
“We absolutely need to take advantage of that resource, not just as another energy source but to put people to work,” Charles Lollar, Republican candidate for governor, said of natural gas.
“Other states were drilling first and asking questions later,” said Del. Heather Mizeur, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. “It has been disastrous on public health and the environment.”
Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to release underground natural gas.
The nation’s Marcellus Shale formation stretches from Virginia to New York beneath the Appalachian Mountains and contains vast amounts of natural gas. Maryland’s section of the formation lies in Garrett and Allegany counties.
Dominion Resources has proposed to expand its Cove Point liquefied natural gas facility in Calvert County — where it mainly imports gas — to allow for also exporting natural gas to other countries. Opponents of the expansion fear, among other concerns, that the expansion would lead to fracking in Maryland.
Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park sits on the 15-member Fracking Safety Commission, appointed in 2011 by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to study the impacts of fracking in Maryland prior to making a decision.
Currently, the commission is reviewing best management practices for drilling and assessing risks to public health and the economy of Western Maryland, she said.
Whether it will have an answer by 2014 as intended remains to be seen.
In a statement to the Business Gazette, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) said developing new ways to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels while delivering reliable and affordable energy to Maryland’s families and businesses is an important goal.
“Any energy production, renewable or fossil, must be done in a safe, regulated and sustainable manner that creates good jobs while protecting our environment, including the Chesapeake Bay, and the health of our families,” said Brown, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. “That’s why Governor O’Malley and I included $1.5 million in this year’s budget to study the safety and economic development factors that go into this issue and to collect baseline data on our air quality and water supplies.”
But to Lollar, the state has studied fracking enough.
Years of study have shown Maryland can allow fracking and still ensure the companies drilling do so without damaging the environment, he said. Neighboring states already are extracting natural gas and selling it to customers in Maryland, Lollar said.
Del. Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold did not lightly decide to support allowing fracking in the state.
“I have to let you know that I’ve really struggled with the issue and studied the issue, I’ve listened to the fears and looked at the science,” he said. “And I’ve come down on the side of natural gas drilling for ourselves, for Maryland’s use.”
Fracking now will help the state with its energy costs and diversify its alternative energy production, said George, a GOP candidate for governor.
“We have to have other alternatives that are clean,” he said.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who also is seeking the Republican nomination, said estimates show fracking in Garrett and Allegany counties will bring as many as 14,000 jobs.
If the state continues to study the issue, the people of Western Maryland will suffer as business go to frack in neighboring Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, he said.
But Mizeur said the purported economic benefit of fracking is not certain.
The state should know how fracking will affect Western Maryland’s fragile economy — largely dependent on tourism — before it opens for drilling.
“There has to be science and economics and public health data that drives this conversation rather than just heated political rhetoric,” she said. “I never say never. I’m being very open-minded toward what a study and independent review of the science shows.”
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said he expects the state to eventually allow drilling.
“Natural gas is clean, it’s cheap and it’s here,” he said. But to extract natural gas without contaminating drinking water and the Bay, fracking must be extremely regulated, he said.
Gansler will start his campaign for governor next week.