GOP governor signs fracking ban into law

Maryland becomes the second state in the nation to ban the practice.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, second from right, announces plans to support a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland during a news conference in Annapolis, Md., Friday, March 17, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, second from right, announces plans to support a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland during a news conference in Annapolis, Md., Friday, March 17, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday signed a bill that permanently bans fracking in the state.

The bill passed the Democrat-led Assembly and state Senate last week.

Environmental activists applauded the move and noted the importance of a signature from a Republican governor.

“With Governor Hogan’s signature, Marylanders can feel safe knowing their air, their water, and their health will now be protected from the inherent dangers of fracking,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch and author of Frackopoly, said in a statement. “Governor Hogan’s opposition to fracking demonstrates that matters of public health and our environment need not be partisan.”

The ban was the result of years of grassroots organizing in Maryland. Maryland lawmakers passed a moratorium on fracking two years ago, buying time for the state to study the environmental impacts of the practice.

During fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, large volumes of chemical- and sand-laced water are injected deep underground, breaking up shale formations and releasing oil and gas deposits trapped within. The state’s northwest panhandle lies atop the Marcellus shale formation, one of the largest known natural gas reservoirs in the world.

In recent years, numerous reports have tied fracking to diminished air quality and a slew of negative health impacts, particularly for children. In addition, wastewater disposal from fracking operations has been linked to earthquakes.

Polls in Maryland have shown that residents roundly disapproved of allowing fracking in their state. The Assembly version of the bill Hogan signed into law was co-sponsored by more than half the body’s members, and a Senate version passed easily last week.

Fracking was banned in New York State in 2014. Pennsylvania and Ohio, meanwhile, which cover the bulk of the Marcellus formation, have experienced a massive boom in fracking.

Improvements in drilling technology spurred a boom in fracking over the past two decades, while opponents to the practice have struggled to find local ways to rein in developers.

Banning fracking will not keep Maryland out of the natural gas boom. Dominion Resources is in the process of building a natural gas compression station and export terminal for LNG (liquified natural gas) in the Chesapeake Bay. And the state is seeing a rise in natural gas pipelines, which have been the subject of local debate.

Natural gas burns almost twice as cleanly, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, as coal does — but its lesser climate impact has been diminished by leaks during production, transportation, and storage. Natural gas is 80 percent methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 20-year span.