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State senate flames fracking bill; 'It is not going to happen.'

The Marcellus Shale is both a blessing and a curse. Before anyone has made any money from extracting the natural gas from the shale, it seems, the state of Maryland has sunk a pretty penny into researching the feasibility and impact of the chief extraction method, hydraulic fracturing. In June 2011, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative and its Advisory Committee to address many of the questions lawmakers and citizens have about fracking.

The Advisory Committee's final report is due Aug. 1, 2014, but a few members of the General Assembly are hoping to skip the formalities and just ban fracking in Maryland right now. The sponsor of the senate bill, SB 360, met significant opposition at a recent Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee meeting.

The risks associated with fracking are legion. Water contamination and chemical spills from drilling companies rank high on a list of health and environmental dangers that, for opponents, may actually defy ranking. But when the senator revisited these issues to the committee, he was not entering any new territory.

The committee has heard this all before. Maryland has been grappling with fracking since before the 2011 executive order, and with such high stakes on both sides of the issue, fracking may never be far from any lawmaker's thoughts.

The chair's response to the proposed ban went straight to the point. It will not happen, the chair said, because the General Assembly will not stop the Advisory Commission's study mid-stream, much less when it is so close to completion. "I am not being facetious," she added. "It is not going to happen."

The committee heard from a representative of the oil and gas industry as well. As expected, he urged that the bill be defeated. In an odd twist, he added that Maryland shouldn't be in any hurry to decide about fracking anyway, because the state's shale gas is inferior to deposits in other states. And, he added, it looks as if the permitting process here will be burdensome.

The House of Delegates has not scheduled a hearing on the companion bill.

Source: Capital Gazette, "Bill to ban fracking in Maryland lacking support," E.B. Furgurson III, Feb. 6, 2014

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