Maryland’s outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley announced on Tuesday that he will soon release proposed regulations for fracking — regulations that when finalized will officially allow natural gas drilling in the western part of the state.
The historically environmentally-friendly governor said the regulations when issued would be strict, going above and beyond to restrict drilling in certain locations and including strong protections from drinking-water contamination and air pollution.
“We’re committed to ensuring that Marylanders have access to the economic opportunities associated with fracking, while also putting the most complete practices into place to ensure the highest level of protection for Maryland residents.” O’Malley said in a statement to the Baltimore Sun.
Even if the regulations proposed by O’Malley are incredibly strict, the governor’s term expires in January, which leaves them open to the state’s incoming governor, Republican Larry Hogan. As the Washington Post noted on Tuesday, Hogan could make major changes to the regulations, or scrap them altogether once he takes office.
Hogan’s positions on the environment are not yet well developed. The Washington Post reported in October that the incoming governor has lauded natural gas as a potential “boon to Maryland’s economy,” but did not expand on how he felt about the fracking process itself, which injects high-pressure streams of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack open shale rock. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Hogan said he would “want to make sure that [fracking] is done in an environmentally sensitive way, and that we take every precaution possible,” but also cited Maryland residents who need jobs.
As it is now, Maryland does not have any natural gas wells. But a small portion of the western portion of the state sits over the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich formation underneath five states that has been a big part of the fracking boom for many years.
Despite multiple reports of contamination from fracking in other Marcellus Shale states, Maryland’s government has determined that the practice would pose little risk of drinking water contamination. The state’s report, put together by Maryland’s Department of Environment and Department of Natural Resources, did find that Maryland faced moderate to high risks associated with increased truck traffic due to fracking operations, and that the state faced a high risk of road degradation. It also ranked air pollution risks from fracking as moderate to high.