Maryland Marcellus Shale Commission to Have First Meeting This Week – One Meeting Down, Three More Years of Meetings to Go

Gov. Martin O'MalleyMaryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has effectively taken his state out of consideration for Marcellus Shale drilling. How? He’s appointed a commission to study that which has already been studied to death, to have meetings, to issue preliminary reports, have more meetings, and issue a final report in August 2014, years after drilling will already be firmly established in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and (perhaps) New York. A relatively small area of Maryland sits atop the Marcellus—two rural counties in the panhandle of Maryland: Allegany and Garrett counties. Both counties have high unemployment and would greatly benefit from Marcellus gas drilling, but the landowners and the people who could be employed by the drilling industry in those communities will not benefit from drilling for many years to come because of Gov. O’Malley’s delays.

So it’s of note, but of little consequence, that the kick-off meeting for Gov. O’Malley’s recently appointed Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission will happen this Thursday at 9:30 am at the Lakeside Visitors Center at Rocky Gap State Park. The meeting is open to the public. Below is a recent press release announcing the people appointed to O’Malley’s Commission.

Governor O’Malley today [July 19] announced members of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. As mandated by the Governor’s June 6, 2011, Executive Order on the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, the Secretaries of the Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources, in consultation with the Advisory Commission, will study issues related to natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale in Maryland.  Commission members include a broad range of stakeholders and representatives from the scientific community, the gas industry, business, agriculture, environmental organizations, citizens, and government.

As outlined in the Governor’s Executive Order, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative will assist State policymakers and regulators in determining whether and how gas production from the Marcellus Shale in Maryland can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment, and natural resources.

“I am mindful of the potential benefits that could come from Maryland’s Marcellus Shale gas reserves,” said Governor O’Malley.  “There are, however, many legitimate public health, safety, environmental, and natural resource issues concerning exploration and extraction of gas from the Marcellus Shale in Maryland.  The Commission will study the short-term, long-term, and cumulative effects of natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale, best practices, and appropriate changes, if any, to the laws and regulations concerning oil and gas.  We look forward to their conclusions and recommendations.”

“The Department currently has the authority in State law and regulation to place all reasonable conditions in permits necessary to provide for public safety and to protect public health, the environment, and natural resources,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers.  “What is lacking is a complete understanding of the risks inherent in deep drilling and fracking and consensus about how to protect against those risks.”

“These issues relate not only to the hydraulic fracturing itself and its possible effect on drinking water, but also the cumulative impact of multiple wells on natural resources and the environment, including air pollution and forest fragmentation,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. “Maryland’s precious forests, parks, streams, and rivers must be protected.”

The Commission will be chaired by David Vanko, Ph.D., a geologist and current Dean of The Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics at Towson University. Other members include: Senator George Edwards; Delegate Heather Mizeur; Garrett County Commissioner James Raley; Allegany Commissioner William Valentine; Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison; Shawn Bender, division manager at the Beitzel Corporation and president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau; Steven M. Bunker, director of Conservation Programs, Maryland Office of the Nature Conservancy; John Fritts, president of the Savage River Watershed Association and director of development for the Federation of American Scientists; Jeffrey Kupfer, senior advisor, Chevron Government Affairs; Dominick E. Murray, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; Paul Roberts, a Garrett County resident and co-owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery; Nick Weber, chair of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited; and Harry Weiss, Esquire, partner at Ballard Spahr.

The Advisory Commission’s first meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 4, 2011, at the Lakeside Visitors Center at Rocky Gap State Park and will be open to public.

The Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources, in consultation with the Advisory Commission, will conduct a three-part study and present findings and recommendations as follows:

  • By December 31, 2011, a presentation of findings and related recommendations regarding the desirability of legislation to establish revenue sources, such as a State-level severance tax, and the desirability of legislation to establish standards of liability for damages caused by gas exploration and production.
  • By August 1, 2012, recommendations for best practices for all aspects of natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale in Maryland.
  • No later than August 1, 2014, a final report with findings and recommendations relating to the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling including possible contamination of groundwater, handling and disposal of wastewater, environmental and natural resources impacts, impacts to forests and important habitats, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic impact.

The Executive Order also instructs the Departments and the Advisory Commission to take advantage of other ongoing research. If information becomes available during the course of the study that is sufficient to demonstrate that the natural gas can be extracted from shale formations in Maryland without adverse impact to human health, natural resources, or the environment, the Department could issue permits with all appropriate safeguards in place.*

Maybe Gov. O’Malley should have a talk with Gov. Tom Corbett from the neighboring state of Pennsylvania to get some pointers. Gov. Corbett appointed his Marcellus Shale commission at the end of March, they met, held public hearings, squabbled, met some more, voted on recommendations and issued a final report to Gov. Corbett—all in a little over three months, not three years.

*State of Maryland Press Release (Jul 19, 2011) – Governor Martin O’Malley Names Members of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission

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