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Fracking looms ahead of legislative session

Rachel Baye

A group of 59 local and state elected officials, including 21 members of the General Assembly, have signed a letter urging Gov. Larry Hogan and state legislators to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The letter notes that public health risks drove New York to ban fracking and calls for Maryland to follow suit. It points to a recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that linked fracking to increases in preterm births and asthma attacks.

The controversial drilling process is likely to be the focus of several bills when the General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday. The state’s two-year fracking moratorium is set to expire Oct. 1, but there’s a laundry list of Democratic legislators who aren’t eager to let that happen.

Lawmakers have suggested the upcoming session could see proposals for an outright fracking ban, a new fracking moratorium, or new fracking regulations — in addition to those the Maryland Department of the Environment is already crafting.

“I haven't seen any indication that fracking can be performed safely and that respects the wishes of local governments who have banned fracking,” said Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat who signed Monday’s letter. He said he would back a ban or a moratorium.

Manno co-chairs a legislative committee that is reviewing the Hogan administration’s proposed fracking regulations, which must be in place before drilling can begin in October. The committee took the unusual step of putting a hold on the regulations until the end of February, effectively delaying the administration in finalizing them.

"There's a lot of opposition, a lot of concern with these regulations,” Manno said. “It's our responsibility to make sure that if there are concerns, that those concerns are at the very least looked at.”

Last week the attorney general’s office told the committee that local fracking bans — such as the ones passed in Frostburg, Friendsville and Mountain Lake Park in Western Maryland — may still be valid even after the state allows drilling.

A separate House committee is considering the health effects of fracking and is set to release a report by early next week.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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