The Western Maryland Delegation, represented by Delegate Wendell Beitzel (Garrett County) testified before the Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review Committee (AELR) yesterday, supporting the fracking regulations proposed by The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
Representatives from Garrett and Allegany Counties have been consistent in supporting gas drilling, contending the practice will create jobs, boost the economy and honor the property rights of landowners who choose to lease their land to the natural gas companies.
The representatives are asking the state to move full-steam ahead despite a massive outcry in opposition to fracking. Many county residents who oppose fracking are landowners, too. They are concerned directional drilling from land leased by others could endanger their property, contaminate their water wells, farms and animals.
Engage Mountain Maryland, along with many other local, state, and national organizations pointed out a chasm of oversights and omissions in MDE's regulations that leave Maryland residents and businesses vulnerable to injurious health, safety, and economic consequences.
The overwhelming opposition to fracking was countered by industry representatives from the Maryland Petroleum Council, American Petroleum Institute, the Garrett County Farm Bureau, and The Energy and Property Rights Coalition.
While transportation was offered by the pro-fracking forces from Garrett County to their supporters for the hearing, a very small number of fracking proponents made the trip. They were overwhelmed by the large delegation of county residents traveling at their own expense to Annapolis.
MDE Secretary, Ben Grumbles began testimony, defining the regulations as meeting a “platinum” standard over the earlier Gov. O’Malley regulations that were characterized as a “gold” standard.
Del. Susan McComas - Rep. Harford County, recognized that the regulations could be considered the strictest in the nation. However other delegates were convinced current practices playing out elsewhere were unsatisfactory. States like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio have operated under lesser or no regulatory measures and have gotten bad press over environmental and health problems.
Marylanders are close enough to the fracking industry to hear from friends and family exposed to industry practices, leaving them highly apprehensive and suspicious.
The AELR Committee, chaired by Sen. Roger Manno - Dem. Montgomery Co., openly entered into the debate of fracking's sketchy safety and accountability record. Their committee’s responsibility, however, is not to debate if fracking will come to Maryland, but how it would be regulated.
The committee reminded participants that regulations will be adopted one way or the other, despite objections to the method.
AELR Committee member, Delegate Dan Morhaim, (D-Baltimore Co)., was the most outspoken and critical of the work Grumbles presented. He referenced page after page pointing out where the regulations were insufficient or required clarification and specificity. He qualified his criticisms stating he read the entire regulatory document and some sections several times to draw his conclusions.
Morhaim’s criticisms were echoed throughout the hearing. Friends of Deep Creek Lake, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club, were among other attendees who all presented powerful arguments that Maryland residents will be at great risk if left with nothing more than the current proposed regulations.
Attendees were surprised that AELR committee members openly discussed an industry ban or extended moratorium to deal with inadequate regulatory standards.
At a pivotal point in the hearing, Chairman, Manno asked Sec. Grumbles for clarification on whether local ban legislation could override a state decision to allow fracking. Grumbles said he didn’t believe the regulations being considered would preempt localities that ban fracking. Manno and the committee suggested a ruling may be necessary from the state’s Attorney General to determine if Maryland law allows for counties or local jurisdiction to override a state decision on fracking.
Committee members requested further edits, which may postpone final regulations until after the next General Assembly session convenes in calendar year 2017. Whatever form the regulations take, it is clear they will not forestall further discussion of legislation to ban fracking.