No one is fracking in Maryland right now — and lawmakers there just introduced a bill to ensure the practice is permanently banned.
With 23 co-sponsors, the fracking ban introduced this week already has the support of nearly half of the state senate. An assembly version of the bill is expected to be introduced next week.
Lawmakers are rushing to enact a ban before a two-year moratorium expires in May. The 2015 moratorium was intended give state officials a chance to study the potential impact and draft regulations for fracking, which uses large volumes of chemical- and sand-laced water, injected at high pressures, to break up underground rock formations and release deposits of natural gas or oil.
Those regulations have not materialized, and opponents of the practice aren’t waiting. Fracking has been tied to a number of negative health outcomes, including increased rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Fracking has also been tied to elevated levels of benzene and other carcinogens in the water supply.
Maryland does have natural gas resources. Northwestern Maryland is part of the Marcellus Shale region, which is the largest reservoir of natural gas in the country. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have all seen an explosion in natural gas extraction in recent years — along with the health and environmental concerns it brings.
Prince George’s County, near Washington, D.C., also sits on a natural gas reservoir. Officials there passed a county-wide ban on fracking last April, after a massive push from voters.
The Maryland legislature has begun the year with a strong push on environmental issues.
Earlier this week, both bodies voted to override last fall’s veto of expanding the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The bill, which had been rejected by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), calls for utilities to source 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
“With the Trump administration moving to silence even a mention of climate-change, states like Maryland will need to lead this fight,” David Smedick, from the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said in an emailed statement about the renewable portfolio standard.
And voters seem to be on board. Nearly three-quarters of voters support programs that will increase the use of renewable energy, and a poll last fall found that more than half of voters in Maryland support an overall ban on fracking. More strikingly, only a small margin of voters thought there was no risk to fracking, with a third of respondents saying they worried about water quality.
The anti-fracking contingent cares about the issue deeply, as well, with 40 percent of all respondents saying a vote against fracking would make them more likely to support an elected official.
Legislators in Florida also introduced a ban on fracking this session. New York has already banned the practice.