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Commission Seeks Extension On Md. Drilling Study

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Natural gas, gas drilling

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Members of a commission scrutinizing natural gas extraction in western Maryland are asking the governor for more time to complete a study on the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is asking for more time to complete a best practices study that would examine technical issues of drilling, environmental impacts and infrastructure needs.

Commission chairman David Vanko said Wednesday that the group is asking the governor to extend the timeline for the study, which was originally due to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislature in August.

Vanko, who is a geologist and dean of Towson University’s college of science and mathematics, believes the scope of the study is just too broad to finish the work on time. A final report could be complete by December, he said.

“We feel that we’d rather do the report right and do it correctly rather than short change ourselves and get it out for
this very short deadline,” Vanko said.

His group is tasked with determining whether and how natural gas should be extracted from the Marcellus Shale, a swath of sedimentary rock stretching through the Appalachian basin, a practice that some say it has contaminated water sources in other states.

The commission met last Friday to discuss its next steps after legislation to charge gas companies a per-leased acre fee to fund the study failed in the General Assembly.

Prior to the bill’s defeat, Maryland Department of the Environment transferred $138,950 from the state’s used tire cleanup and recycling fund to pay for the study, anticipating the fee would eventually be collected to reimburse that account.

Delegate Heather Mizeur, who sponsored the legislation, has led the charge to regulate fracking, a process of blasting away bedrock with a combination of water and chemicals in order to reach the gas.

Mizeur, D-Montgomery, said her attempt to charge companies for the study will likely return in the 2013 session.

Lack of funding could further delay the commission’s work, which is scheduled to be complete in 2014, she and other commission members said.

Mizeur blames gas company lobbyists for holding up a state Senate vote on her bill.

“The industry threw every block they could to prevent that bill from moving forward,” Mizeur said last week. “If we were to proceed with drilling and there’s some sort of clean up and damage that takes place, can we expect the industry to pay for any of the cleanup and the remediation costs if they’re not willing to pay for the studies in the first place?”

Industry representatives balked at the fee, saying it is unusual to request companies fund such studies, suggesting the measure is a delay tactic by drilling opponents.

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

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