Energy. Environment. Economy.

Maryland Governor proposes stringent fracking regulations

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. After three years of research, the term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits lie beneath just a tiny sliver of western Maryland. But with three years worth of review, the state issued a 104 page report Tuesday detailing the pros and cons of fracking, along with recommendations for some of the most stringent rules in the country. Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Study was conducted by the state’s Department of Environment, and Department of Natural Resources at the behest of the outgoing governor, Martin O’Malley. It’s unclear what will come of the proposal because the newly elected incoming governor-elect, Republican Larry Hogan, has criticized the lack of drilling in the state’s two shale gas counties.

The hold up to Maryland’s shale gas boom has been the state’s extensive analysis of current research into the economic, public health and environmental impacts of fracking. Today’s report includes a long list of proposed recommendations that it says would allow gas drilling to occur with minimal risks.

“…provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.”

The proposed regulations include a five-year plan on each well, a 2000 foot vertical buffer between an aquifer and the targeted gas deposit, a setback of at least 1000 feet from the edge of a well pad to an occupied building, school or church and 2000 feet from a private drinking water well.

When drilling the first 100 feet of the well, or drilling through drinking water aquifers, only water and air may be used, or chemicals that meet certain safety requirements. Regular cement casing integrity tests will have to be performed on each well. Both fracking with diesel and open pit frack water storage ponds will not be permitted. Fracking chemical disclosures are discussed in detail, and expressly state that health care professionals would be able to gain access to information quickly, and be able to share that information with the patient.

Perhaps one of the most novel regulations regard methane leaks. The Maryland proposal requires operators to fix leaks, and measure the amount of methane that does end up escaping during production and transport into the interstate transmission lines. Methane is a greenhouse gas that in the short term causes more warming impacts than carbon dioxide. Environmentalists and climate scientists are increasingly concerned about methane, and oil and gas operations are considered the highest industrial emitters of the greenhouse gas. Estimated leaks by the oil and gas industry vary, but many say the global warming impacts of those emissions outweigh the climate benefits of burning natural gas over coal. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release new rules regarding methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by the end of this year.

Larry Hogan, Republican candidate for Maryland governor, speaks with the media, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Baltimore. Maryland voters will choose a successor to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is term-limited, Nov. 4.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Republican Larry Hogan, Maryland's governor-elect, says he has doubts humans contribute to climate change.

In addition to plugging onsite methane leaks, the gas drillers would have to measure the amount of methane that does escape, and purchase carbon off-sets to make up for those emissions.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says Governor Martin O’Malley’s proposal is both novel and encouraging.

“This is the first time as far as we know that any governor or government anywhere in the world has proposed a policy of zero methane leakage,” said Tidwell. “And we’re hoping that this idea coming from Maryland might influence other states and even influence the EPA in terms of future regulations.”

Tidwell says for environmental and public health reasons, he hopes fracking never comes to Maryland. But in places where it already exists, he says Maryland’s proposals could provide a model for ideal regulation.

Although the new governor could ignore O’Malley’s proposals, Democrats in Maryland’s legislature maintain a super-majority, which means they could override a veto. Read the entire report below:


  • JimBarth

    PA has no restriction, as far as I know, of the distance of an edge of a well pad, and a house. Maryland proposes 1,000′. PA recently established a 500′ set back of a well from a drinking water well. Maryland’s report recommends 2,000′. Maryland establishes regulations/restrictions on drilling the first 100′ of a well, PA, none? PA allows open air flowback waste impoundments (currently about 529 exist?), Maryland would not allow any. Maryland establishes a 2,000 foot buffer between a target gas zone and an aquifer. PA none? Maryland wants to strictly limit and enforce regulations on methane leakage. PA?
    All of this beautiful work, and beautiful regulation, and now the recent governor elect is quoted as “having doubts that humans contribute to climate change”?
    Oh, the insanity!

    • pghsheep

      Allegheny Township, 15613 at this time is 1000′ from drill hole to a neighbors well. That is not the distance from well pad.

      • JimBarth

        Thanks for that info. It reads to me that the Township has, through its zoning regulations, passed that on a township level. The PA regulations are 500′ (I thought they were still 300′, but Vera Scroggins posted they were now 500′).

      • JimBarth

        Here’s an EE story on the Taylor (and neighbor’s) lawsuit trying to stop CNX from drilling 1,000 feet from their homes. They are in Allegheny Township, no?

  • Do Your Homework

    PA does have regulations from a well or well pad to a structure. Most of the 529 water impoundments hold freshwater (not flowback)

    • Victoria Switzer

      we have well pads a few hundred feet from occupied homes….

    • JimBarth

      “Freshwater” as defined by the industry, is nothing less than toxic flow back waste that they have treated to a point they may recycle it into the next frac. It is yet another butchery of logic and the English language that the industry employs in its attempt to mislead the public. It has nothing to do with how a normal person understands the words, fresh water. If you have done your homework, tell me the chemical analysis of the fracking flow back that they hold in the impoundments, that you write as “freshwater”, and tell me why Range has been fined up the annulus for their impoundments that have leaked, thus contaminating the soil and water beneath and within it’s plume? Think of the Lorren Kiskadden suit, and refer to the 3 other drinking water wells PA DEP determined were contaminated by Range, over in Washington County.
      As far as PA regulating distance of a well pad edge to a house, what is it? In 2008 and later, I’ve seen the edge of pads within 150′ of a house? It seemed to me the Cabot pad was even closer to the Carter home on Carter Road, when I visited in November of 2009, when they announced their lawsuit. I see Victoria Switzer wrote “a few hundred feet”. Carter’s pad was closer to his home to my eye, but I’ll take her word.

  • Jack Wolf

    In an abruptly changing climate, any further expansion of fossil fuel production is nuts. Didn’t these guys read the latest IPCC report or were they blinded by dollar bill signs?

  • pghsheep

    From an insider charged to clean the flow-back water… the only way to “clean” the flow-back water is to dilute it. And that is using more and more fresh drinkable water to dilute it. We are talking millions and millions of gallons a day!

  • pghsheep

    Read this letter to the Editor and see what it is like to put your faith in those who are unfaithful. And you wonder why we are terrified for our Alle-Kiski River Area. Fool me once… shame on you, fool me twice… shame on me. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to write.

  • peanut butter

    it don’t tell me the pros and cons so whats the point in the web site

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »