Maryland Continues Down the Path to No Gas Drilling

Maryland continues to skip down the primrose path to no shale gas drilling. Earlier this year, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed a Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission to study whether or not the state should even allow shale gas drilling (see this MDN story). The committee is due to turn in a preliminary report by the end of this year, but the final report is not due until 2014. All indicators are that if Maryland allows shale gas drilling, it will be so restrictive and so heavily taxed, it will be stillborn. No drillers will even bother.

The latest evidence of that comes from the commission’s recommendation that drillers be presumed to be guilty of certain environmental “crimes” until proven innocent. To wit:

The commission tasked with advising Maryland on possible shale gas production supports a change in the law that would make it easier for landowners to bring claims against drillers regarding water contamination and other damages near hydraulic fracturing sites.

The new law, which commission chair and Towson University professor David Vanko said has “pretty broad support” from the commission, would shift the burden of proof to energy companies by creating a “rebuttable presumption” that drilling activity causes certain kinds of damages occurring close in time and proximity to natural gas operations.

“I think [asymmetry of resources] always has been an issue in litigation, particularly where an aggrieved party, Joe Homeowner, is suing a Fortune 500 company,” said Harry Weiss, a lawyer in the Philadelphia-based law firm Ballard Spahr and a member of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission. Weiss said Pennsylvania has a similar presumption statute for damages that occur near natural gas operations.

This and other changes to the state’s liability structure, as well as potential revenue sources from gas drilling, will be included in a set of recommendations due Dec. 31 — the first milestone in a three-year study that Gov. Martin O’Malley required by executive order in May.

State regulators are working with the advisory commission to form recommendations on all aspects of shale gas drilling before deciding whether Maryland should ultimately allow the controversial practice.*

*Maryland Daily Record (Dec 14, 2011) – Fracking commission supports law change