Maryland House overwhelmingly approves bill to ban fracking

The bill passed the state House with a veto-proof majority.

People who want to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland rally outside the statehouse and governor’s residence in Annapolis, Maryland, on Thursday, March 2, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte
People who want to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland rally outside the statehouse and governor’s residence in Annapolis, Maryland, on Thursday, March 2, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte

A bill to ban fracking in the state of Maryland sailed through the state House of Delegates on Friday with a 97–40 majority vote.

The bill will now go to the state Senate. A companion bill was introduced there last month — with nearly half the state senators signing on as sponsors. There has been widespread support for banning fracking in the state, where only six percent of voters think there is “no risk” to the practice.

“This bill’s passage is the culmination of an immense grassroots movement that has been growing for years. We commend the Maryland House for working to protect the health of their citizens and the climate over Big Oil profits,” Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement.

Maryland has been battling the arrival of natural gas fracking for years. The northwest corner of the state is part of the Marcellus Shale formation, which is the largest known natural gas reservoir in the world, and there are other smaller natural gas deposits in other areas of the state.

In 2015, the legislature passed a moratorium intended to delay fracking while the state’s Department of Natural Resources studied whether fracking — a method of oil and gas production that uses large amounts of chemical- and sand-laced water to break up shale gas below ground, releasing deposits of fossil fuels. It has been criticized for contaminating local water sources and triggering earthquakes, including in nearby Pennsylvania.

Embattled communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland (as well as much of the mid-Atlantic) are now struggling to resist a plethora of natural gas pipelines that are proposed or under construction and will bring natural gas largely to foreign markets or will feed utilities’ transitioning power plants to natural gas.

Natural gas, once touted as a “clean” fossil fuel, actually has an outsized impact on climate change. While natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide of coal when it is burned, it is made up of 80 percent methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year span.

Methane leaks have been found to completely erase any climate benefits to natural gas, while fracking itself has been connected to elevated levels of asthma and negative health outcomes in nearly communities.