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.
From underneath the Howard Street Bridge, I often hear the squeak of CSX trains traveling underground on my light rail ride home. In Baltimore, we expect increases in the volume of petroleum-by-rail destined for the port terminal. The oil industry desires Baltimore as a destination so they can ship crude oil by tanker to refineries along the East Coast. And, if Congress lifts the oil export ban, these shipments will go worldwide. Targa Resources, a Texas-based company, recently filed a permit to construct a crude oil shipping facility at the Fairfield peninsula in South Baltimore.
The Marcellus Shale is a deep natural gas reserve running under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. The Utica Shale is even deeper and larger, covering parts of these states plus Kentucky and Tennessee. For the last several years, the Marcellus has been the focus of a huge boom in exploration and extraction, and more recently activity has also started in the Utica (especially in Ohio and West Virginia). New drilling technologies, like the combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, have made these deposits—long considered too difficult and expensive to drill—accessible to the industry.
This 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.
When John Smith first sailed the Chesapeake Bay, he reported a resource teeming with oysters, crabs, and waters so clear one could see all the way to the bottom. The Bay is the world’s largest estuary. Generations of watermen- Maryland’s analog to cowboys- have shaped the very tradition and character of the region by harvesting the Bay’s bounty, driving the region’s economy, and filling the bellies of hungry crab cake aficionados.
Tonight at midnight, the Maryland legislative session will end with no progress on any bills on hydraulic fracturing. The debate over fracking in Maryland follows two parallel tracks. One track is the Governor-appointed Commission studying drilling in the state. Their report and recommendations come due this August.
This week, the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) gaveled in its 434st legislative session. Election year sessions tend to signify nothing but sound and fury. However, this time around, legislators have an opportunity to demonstrate trend-setting leadership on hydraulic fracturing policy.
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.
The rosy picture from the natural gas industry: A nearly endless supply of energy, jobs, security, and economic growth. Diving in to the projections provided to us by drilling proponents requires a critical look at their underlying assumptions. Economists and other experts studying how much we have, how much its worth, how many jobs created, and how much economic growth generated use complicated algorithms to provide numbers for each of these values.
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.