The next legislative session will likely be all about fracking with the two-year moratorium ready to expire. Senator Bobby Zirkin, who's been a long-time critic of fracking practices plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit drilling in Maryland as he did in 2014. A common argument for those who oppose fracking is that industry cannot be properly regulated to make it safe. The moratorium mandated fracking regulations be written and adopted by October 1, 2016, a deadline that will soon come to pass.
The Maryland Department of the Environment, MDE that is responsible for building fracking regulations, shared "Issue Papers" this summer that outraged opponents to gas drilling. Many of their recommendations relaxed standards set in 2015. The previous O'Malley administration built a commission that devoted three years to looking at and recommending how fracking would fit into the landscape and communities of Maryland. Even after extensive study and review, some commission members felt the "Gold Standard" regulations fall short of their expectations.
MDE's, Secretary Grumbles stated that his department must have done something right for advocates and opponents of drilling to be "unsatisfied" with the Issue Papers. For those who attended the MDE public hearing in Garrett County, landowners expressed overwhelming approval of the direction MDE was headed for final regulations, and praised their work. Conversely, opponents described the regulations as "insulting."
Western Maryland Senator, George Edwards has been unflappable in his support of fracking. Industry promises of economic benefits and employment opportunity, lead him to feel development could only help one of the "poorest parts" of the state. Others would argue that even though the rural area may be "poor" on a balance sheet, it is rich in recreational opportunities that are financially worth protecting. The disagreement on where the greater value lies has created a deep divide in the once close-knit mountain top region.
Understanding the core dysfunction causing Garrett County's "poor" distinction and what could turn that around has yet to be analyzed. Communities that meat these criteria are prime targets for fracking activities prompting national headlines around environmental justice issues for the underserved. Wealthy communities are more influential politically while financially able to protect their investments and interests. Small rural communities without the means can be victimized by development and easily overrun in court cases by large corporate entities. It's not just opponents to fracking that can fall prey. Even naive landowners unaccustomed to complex legal agreements can enter bad fracking leases too quickly that leave them vulnerable.
A study that focuses on the Economic Impacts of Fracking on a Tourism Economy is currently out for bids in Garrett County. It's planned that the county will be reviewing bids by the end of September and awarding a contract to get the study in the works. Unfortunately, any conclusions that could come from the study won't be complete before a bill is brought forth by Senator Zirkin or anyone else. Without proper study of how the fracking industry will impact Western Maryland's existing economy, suggesting the natural gas industry is a viable economic solution remains unfounded.
Some content derived from the Washington Post article "A new fracking fight is brewing in Maryland" by Josh Hicks, June 24, 2016