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Bill Limiting Drilling In Marcellus Shale Advances

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A measure restricting natural gas drilling in western Maryland moved forward on Tuesday, after supporters said the state needs to study how the technique to extract the gas could affect health and the environment.

The measure in the House of Delegates would delay drilling in the Marcellus Shale rock formation until the state completes the study due in August 2013.

A permit for drilling could be granted before that if it is shown that the work could be done without hurting human health, natural resources or the environment. But industry officials say the bill essentially amounts to a moratorium during the study period.

Marcellus Shale is an enormous underground rock formation that contains natural gas. It stretches from Tennessee to New York, including part of western Maryland in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

The natural gas resources have long been known to geologists, but it has taken a new drilling technology that relies on a process called hydraulic fracturing to make it recoverable.

The process involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water thousands of feet underground to crack shale and release natural gas trapped inside. The Environmental Protection Agency is examining the process to see if it may contaminate drinking water supplies.

Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett, argued that the bill will stop drilling for natural gas at a time when western Maryland could use the money from it to help the region bounce back from the recession.

“The bottom line: Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction has the potential to positively impact western Maryland’s economy,” Beitzel said. “We’re suffering out there.”

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee, said some neighboring states where drilling has begun are either halting the process or rethinking whether it’s a good idea because of concerns about how drilling is affecting drinking water and the environment.

“There are many, many issues involved here,” McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said.

The House rejected several amendments championed by Beitzel, including one that would have ended the study period in 2012 instead of 2013.

The governor of New York has imposed a moratorium until at least July 2011 on the drilling.

The Maryland Department of Environment has received permit applications for drilling from two companies at six sites. Only three of those sites are currently being pursued.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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