On Tuesday, the same day President Obama delivered his Climate Action Plan speech at Georgetown University, the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources (MDE/DNR) released their Best Management Practices report for the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative. The comment period extends until August 9. MDE/DNR will host a public meeting July 9 at 7pm in the auditorium of Garrett College.
One danger posed by drilling are the externalities the oil and gas industry generates. Externalities involve costs that businesses shift to others not involved in that business- making them external to the businesses’ own operations. Pollution, road construction and maintenance, fire, police, public safety, and public health costs borne by taxpayers exemplify these kinds of externalities. They will overwhelm the economic and environmental abilities of the State to support this heavy industrial activity.
Right now, Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) plans to conduct an economic study intended to illuminate some of these economic costs. Also, the Departments continue to analyze and assess potential risks. The BMP report does not constitute a decision to drill nor have the Departments decided whether drilling should proceed.
Good, Better, and Best Management Practices
But if you’re gonna have drilling, ‘tis a good idea to have some BMPs to follow. Overall, I like what Maryland has cooked up. One centerpiece Maryland regulators included is the requirement of operators to submit a Comprehensive Gas Development Plan (CGDP). These plans will have the effect of sequestering gas development in designated zones approved by MDE. Colorado has something similar where, in exchange for submitting a Comprehensive Development Plan, the operator receives expedited permit approval. The difference is that Colorado CDPs are voluntary and generally not used that much. Maryland’s proposal to require them appears as a fairly novel approach among gas drilling states. Other items I like: Banning diesel is a personal favorite of mine. 98% flaring efficiency is the gold standard. Prohibiting waste pits is pretty essential if you want to maintain any self-respect as a regulator. The Departments also require two years of baseline water quality studies.
Maryland as Exemplar
The main theme Earthworks’ comments will strike centers around actually treating gas drilling like heavy industrial activity. That is, treat it the same under the law as similar industries, especially with respect to closing federal loopholes for stormwater and hazardous waste. MDE has a pretty deep bench when it comes to stormwater management. Folks there really know what they’re doing. Considering all options, we hope to see the Departments adopt regulations that will effectively close this loophole by preventing stormwater pollution from all gas infrastructure.
On hazardous waste, the request is the same: treat oil and gas wastes just like hazardous waste from other industries. Modern high volume hydraulic fracturing- unlike oil and gas drilling a quarter century ago- requires large quantities of hazardous chemicals to reduce friction, corrosion, and viscosity among other things. The only option available is recycling of fracking waste and/or shipment out of state for disposal. No other option is feasible. To the maximum extent practicable, the Departments will require 90% recycling. The rest will be shipped out of state- probably to Ohio where the geology better suits disposal by underground injection. Because Maryland cannot dispose the waste in state (the geology isn’t right), Maryland should recognize the danger and how carefully we need to treat this stuff.
The Cart and the Horse
This is just the beginning. We will have much more to say about the individual BMPs. Further, following the comment period on these BMPs, we’ll have rule-makings, regulations, legislation, and ultimately- a Departmental determination as to whether fracking is safe. On that last point, the Departments have put the cart before the horse. Even if one thinks we have a relatively well-constructed cart, the Departments should not issue BMPs before conducting a proper risk analysis. Nor should they proceed before RESI completes their study. Decision makers must understand the costs and risks before Maryland’s next Governor makes the final call. There is no rush; the gas remains in the ground.