This week, Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a three-year moratorium on fracking. The final vote: 93-45. The House also passed a crude-by-rail measure directing the state’s environment and health departments to study risks and find out how many crude oil trains travel through Maryland. The tally: 123-14. Both have margins sufficient to sustain a veto. The Maryland Senate also passed a fracking liability bill 29-17, also a large enough margin for a veto override. The proposals now sit in the opposite chamber awaiting a hearing with the clock ticking toward the end of the legislative session.
Moratorium for Maryland
The House wants to better understand the public health effects of hydraulic fracturing. The Governor’s Commission and Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) review only scratched the surface. Yet, they found many aspects of drilling posed high risks to public health. This bill gives the state some breathing room to study the rapidly emerging public health evidence over the next three years.
Crude by Rail
How many crude oil trains come through Maryland? What happens if these outdated train cars leak, derail or explode? And what’s really in them anyway? These are the questions Del. Lamm’s bill seeks to answer. If this bill becomes law, state and local governments should consider enacting public safety and emergency response protections that will become necessary in light of the study results.
Fracking is an inherently dangerous activity. For this reason, drillers should be held responsible for the damages they cause, even if they follow standard industry practices and comply with all regulations. Earthworks supported an initial version of this bill that did more to even the scales of justice by presuming that drilling causes damage- the more burdensome element for sick landowners to prove in court. This bill also increases bonding levels and also compels trade secret disclosure in lawsuits.
On to the Next Chamber
The environmental and public health communities have prioritized the moratorium legislation- and embraced the three-year compromise. Both the crude by rail and fracking liability bills help Marylanders yet neither is a replacement for a moratorium. Our state legislators must decide by April 13. The new Administration- still deciding whether to adopt pending regulations- may open up our state to drilling at any time.