Inside the walls of the nation’s oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use, Maryland legislators face a series of important yet preliminary initiatives that will shape the future of natural gas development in the Old Line State. The approaching Ides of March signal the choices before the Maryland General Assembly as policy ideas compete in the annual epic scramble leading up to sine die. Latin for “without day”, sine die refers to the final day of the state’s ninety-day legislative session when furious activity swarms Annapolis as policy makers, advocates, and lobbyists rush to pass their agenda before the deadline.
The stage is thus set for how Maryland will respond to the political winds of the shale gale. According to a new study sponsored by Maryland’s chapter of the American Petroleum Institute (API), Maryland could drill several hundred wells, mostly in Garrett County right next to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. At a recent API conference in Annapolis, experts estimated Maryland’s drilling capacity somewhere between 1600 and 2000 wells. While this seems like a relatively small number, two points bear impressing. First, almost all of those wells will be in just one or two counties. So, they’d still be sited pretty close together.
Second, and almost more importantly, is the opportunity for Maryland to shape the rules of the road for the fracking industry. In light of the President’s State of the Union embrace of natural gas, and Pennsylvania’s cart blanche acquiescence to the drilling industry wish list, Maryland must set a proper example for the entire Marcellus play. In fact, the Mason-Dixon line must become a firewall separating the right way to harness our energy resources from the example set by irresponsible oil and gas development elsewhere.
To that end, Maryland legislators have introduced a series of bills aimed at protecting landowner rights, state coffers, and the environment. The Western Maryland delegation, led by Senator George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel, have sponsored plans calling for a state severance tax and greater financial disclosure of leasing details. Senator Frosh and Delegates, McIntosh, Mizeur, S. Robinson, Washington, and others have sponsored similar measures that create even more revenue and broader protections.
While the policy details are important, my point here is to note the shear breadth of support for responsible gas development. Contrast this with the Keystone state, where Harrisburg chose to rip local zoning authority from municipalities preventing them from setting reasonable set backs or other conditions on well siting. Concerned community groups like Citizen Shale, Save Western Maryland, the Savage River Watershed Association, and others should receive credit for a simple yet shrewd strategic approach: alerting their local representatives that carnival barkers turned landmen were ripping off constituents. And we applaud Chairman McIntosh and Delegate Mizeur in particular for their determined leadership on these issues.