90 Days and Counting: Maryland’s Last Chance to Stop Fracking

Last week, the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) began its 435th legislative session.

The political dynamic has changed dramatically since last year. November’s election provided us with dozens of new delegates and senators, as well as a new Republican governor, Larry Hogan.

Maryland Fracking History in Brief

In 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley effectively created a moratorium on fracking and appointed a Commission to study whether drilling could occur in Maryland without unacceptable risks. The Commission has completed its work and the Maryland Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources (DNR) have drafted regulations.

The New Sherriff in Town

Over the last three years, getting a fracking bill to the Governor’s desk (with a few minor exceptions) proved very difficult. Now with the Commission work complete, and a new Executive, the appetite for legislation may change. While the Governor-elect has expressed support for fracking, it remains unclear what he plans to do with the draft regulations his predecessor just released. His choice of Ben Grumbles, to lead MDE may signal a desire to be reasonable.  As a former head of EPA's water office during the Bush Administration, Grumbles authored a 2004 report declaring fracking did not pose a threat for drinking water.  Yet he has since backed away from that suggestion.

The Loyal Opposition

While more Republicans now occupy seats in the MGA, overall both chambers have become more liberal- Republicans replacing some moderate Democrats. The real trick is whether the changed political scene will stiffen the spine of a more progressive legislature so that veto overrides become a distinct possibility. While the situation remains somewhat fluid, we expect legislators to introduce a new suite of fracking bills this session. Most environmental organizations will stand behind a long-term moratorium. Other proposals may include a ban on fracking on state lands, a bill codifying some of the Departmental regulations, a wastewater bill, severance tax bill, and a chemical disclosure bill.

This time it really matters. With the rules out, the moratorium lifted, and a pro-drilling Governor sitting in the Governor’s mansion, the clock is ticking before the first drill bit hits the ground.