Climate

Maryland Senate Passes Bill To Declare Fracking An ‘Ultrahazardous Activity’

CREDIT: Glynnis Jones

The Maryland State House in Annapolis.

On Tuesday, Maryland legislators passed legislation that would place strong limits on the extraction of natural gas in the state.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a three-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the Western part of the state, while the Maryland Senate approved a bill that would impose strict financial liabilities on fracking companies and would declare fracking an “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity.” The bills must pass through the other chambers before heading to the desk of Republican Governor Larry Hogan for approval.

Maryland has been under a de facto fracking ban for more than three years, following former Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley’s hold on permits while the state conducted studies of the fracking industry. The results of those inquiries were mixed, with one study raising concern over fracking’s impact on air quality and another finding that, under best practices, fracking would pose no threat to Maryland’s drinking water.

The just-passed House bill fills in what proponents of the bill claim were gaps in these previous studies.

“We’ve got to get this right, because if we get this wrong, it is unfixable,” Del. Dereck Davis (D) said during the House debate. “You cannot undo this.”

The bill passed 93-45, mainly along party lines, facing staunch opposition from Western Maryland delegates and Republicans from Baltimore county, who argue that fracking would only impact a small portion of the state’s residents who are already willing to accept the industry.

“All we are asking is our second-most greatest natural resource be used,” said Del. Mike McKay (R), who represents Allegany and Washington counties in the state’s western region.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved some of the strongest liability standards for drilling in the country. The bill, which passed 29-14, would require fracking companies to carry a $10 million insurance policy for six years after each drilling operation, and would hold companies financially liable for any health or environmental problems associated with drilling.

To some, the standards are so severe that they’re equivalent to an outright ban. But to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bobby Zirkin (D), that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“If that keeps them from coming, then I think that’s a pretty big statement as to what they’re planning on doing,” Zirkin told Baltimore’s WBAL-TV after the bill passed.

Last November, former Gov. O’Malley announced that he would support fracking in the western part of Maryland under strict regulations. O’Malley released those regulations — which use “best practices” from other states that allow fracking as a starting point, and add additional restrictions on fracking locations — on Jan. 9, and they are currently undergoing a review process. Gov. Hogan, however, has gone on record touting fracking as “an economic gold mine,” according to the Washington Post.

In a statement, Erin Montgomery, spokeswoman for Gov. Hogan, said that the governor is currently reviewing both pieces of legislation.

“However,” she continued, “as he has repeatedly said, if fracking can be done in an environmentally safe way, then he would want to move forward with it.”