An informational meeting about a law to suspend shale gas development in Maryland, if and until adequate scientific studies and regulations are in place to ensure its safety, will be held Friday, Sept. 28. The public is invited to attend the free event from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garrett College Auditorium in McHenry.
The state lawmaker who previously attempted to secure legislation to fund the needed studies, without forcing state taxpayers to pay, said she would introduce the moratorium legislation during the 2013 session, which begins in January.
Then, at a Sept. 12 news conference in Baltimore, Del. Heather Mizeur joined state-wide organizations including representatives from Garrett County to announce the Fracking Moratorium Now! campaign. The Montgomery County Democrat noted that while industry insists the controversial technology is safe, reality reveals “broken towns and farms and families in every state that has opened the doors widely — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, Wyoming, West Viriginia, and others.”
In Maryland, permitting was halted and drilling was prevented last summer when Gov. Martin O’Malley issued an executive order that established a state commission and ordered studies of the technology to prove its safety. Mizeur’s previous legislative proposals would have funded the commission and its work by assessing a small per-acre fee on all gas leases in the state. But the industry, with support from many large land-owners, business groups, and local legislators, successfully lobbied in 2011 and again in 2012 to kill those efforts, charging that it was inappropriate to ask the corporations and land-owners to pay for the studies before drilling is allowed.
“We tried to work with the industry,” Mizeur said at the Baltimore press conference, “but they were unwilling.”
The governor’s executive order gives discretion to state regulatory agencies, which are overhauling regulations but face severe funding shortages, to move forward with drilling. Mizeur also noted that the governor’s executive order could leave Marylanders unprotected if, for example, industry sued over the governor’s action and drilling was allowed to begin before the commission’s work is completed and adequate regulations are in place.
Mizeur said her bill would simply make into law key tenets of the governor’s executive order. “It’s a common-sense approach,” she said. “No fracking until it is shown to be safe.”
Media reports have quoted at least one local legislator, Del. Wendell Beitzel, as saying Mizeur’s bill will be a waste of the legislature’s time. He and every other elected official in Garrett and Allegany County have called for expediting the commission’s work so that drilling can be begin soon.
The public event next week at Garrett College will be a four-part program. Representatives from CitizenShale.org, an Oakland-based citizens group that has presented several other programs in recent months, said the Sept. 28 program will include a point/counter-point visual summary of fracking issues in western Maryland, along with an explanation of the legislative process in Annapolis, and further details of Mizeur’s legislative proposal and the state-wide resolution being circulated to support it. Public questions and comments will be invited.