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Fracking Part 3: Land owners, oil companies grapple over Marcellus Shale drilling “boom”
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February 28, 2011
You can see three states from the deck of Marshall Stacy’s house in Garrett County.
“That furtherest mountain over there is the tallest point in Pennsylvania… and we’re looking due north towards it…”
But what Stacy and many others here would like to see are drilling rigs blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals, deep into the earth beneath them—a process known as “fracking”--to free the natural gas that’s trapped in the Marcellus Shale layer. It could mean millions in lease money and royalties for local landowners and good paying jobs in a part of Maryland where many work in the low-wage service industry.
“I don’t know the exact numbers, but it was buckets and buckets of money. I’ve heard estimates that there’s enough gas under Garrett County to pay the national debt.”
Cheryl DeBerry, of Garrett County’s Economic Development Corporation, says there are plenty of local businesses that could make money supporting the gas industry.
“We have excavating companies that could do the earth work for them; we have food service industries that could serve the workers that are here on the drilling and hydro-fracking rigs.”
At the same time, however, they have heard of places like Dimock, Pennsylvania, where water wells have been unalterably polluted, and suburban Cleveland, where a house blew up. And they want to make sure something like that doesn’t happen to them.
“We’re concerned about the water and the water quality. Obviously, we’re a recreation area; we depend heavily on our water not only for our recreation, but just our communities and our citizens themselves.”
County Commissioner Bob Gatto says local officials are relying on the state Department of the Environment for help in regulating the drillers.
Several drilling firms are eyeing Western Maryland, but only Houston-based Samson Gas and Oil has an active permit application with the Department of the Environment. And its been there since October, 2009. Steve Trujillo, Samson’s engineering and operations manager for Marcellus Shale says that’s an awfully long time to wait compared to other states.
“Any company’s not going to want to go through a permitting processing that takes this long. You just can’t plan your development. It’s hard…If this continues people just won’t come to the state.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Annapolis are working on two bills to tighten regulations on drilling companies. And that would delay issuing permits even longer.
Delegate Wendell Beitzel, a Republican who represents the area, would require the Department of the Environment to develop new regulations by December. He says opponents have slowed the process by claiming Maryland doesn’t have safeguards in place.
“So, what I’m hoping to do and trying to accomplish by the legislation I introduced is to have Maryland Department of the Environment produce, promulgate specific regulations for horizontal drilling into the Marcellus shale.”
Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would give MDE two years to conduct exhaustive studies and develop regulations.
“We’re not saying that it can’t be done right, but we want to make sure that if it’s going to be done in Maryland it has to be done right because our water is too precious of a resource to take for granted.”
Both bills are before the House Environmental Matters Committee, chaired by Maggie McIntosh. She says she wants more study over the summer before passing a bill, delaying permits even longer.
I’m Joel McCord, reporting in Garrett County and Annapolis, for 88.1, WYPR.
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