BALTIMORE (AP) — Western Maryland could be home to 365 natural gas wells that employ more than 1,800 people, according to a study an industry group released Thursday.

The study released by the Maryland Petroleum Council estimates the wells would produce gas for 30 years, and more than $200 million in revenue for the state, about $160 million for Garrett County and $65 million for Allegany County over that period.

“The fiscal impact from this will be simply enormous, particularly at the local government level,” said Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm that prepared the study.

However, Basu noted the figures were estimates based on gas prices that can vary. Drilling is also expected to create a wide variety of jobs, noting about 420 people in 150 occupations are needed to bring a single well online.

“These are blue collar jobs, these are jobs that are available to people who would like to have a job where they can learn the primary skill associated with that job, on the job,”‘ Basu said.

The study comes as a state panel studies whether drilling in western Maryland can be conducted without unacceptable risks to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources.

New drilling techniques in shale formations have set off a drilling boom in neighboring states. County officials in western Maryland have called for speeding the approval process, while environmental groups have expressed concerns about the impact on ground water.

The study said a Pennsylvania study found more than $14,000 in environmental impacts from each well, compared to more than $4 million in economic benefits from a typical well. The report also said some negatives were unavoidable, including truck traffic, noise, dust and clearing of land for wells.

Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, also noted 22 bills are also being considered this year by state lawmakers in Annapolis, including bills to place a 15 percent tax on natural gas production and a $10 per acre study fee.

If a number of the bills are passed, the “chances for development in Maryland will probably be severely compromised because of competition from other states,” Cobbs said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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