BALTIMORE, MD (June 25, 2013) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today released a draft report describing best practices for drilling and production that should be required if horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is permitted in the Marcellus shale in Maryland. The draft report, which was prepared in consultation with an advisory commission, includes recommendations to protect public health and safety, natural resources and the environment.
The draft report has been posted on MDE’s website. The Departments will present an overview of the draft report at a public informational meeting at 7 p.m. July 9 in the auditorium of Garrett College. A copy of the draft report will also be sent to the Ruth Enlow Library in Oakland and the Allegany County Library in Frostburg.
Comments on the draft report can be submitted by email to Marcellus.Advisory@maryland.gov or by mail to: Brigid E. Kenney, Senior Policy Advisor, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21230.
Comments must be submitted by August 9, 2013. A final report will be released after all the comments have been considered. When the report is final, the best practices will be incorporated into new, stringent regulations to apply to shale gas development if it is permitted in Maryland.
The report was required under Governor Martin O’Malley’s June 2011 Executive Order. The Executive Order established the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative to examine the facts and science to determine whether and how hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in Maryland. No decision has been made on whether such drilling will be permitted. The third and final report under the Initiative is due in August 2014.
The Marcellus shale is a black shale, or rock, formation that underlies New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Western Maryland. In Maryland, the only anticipated areas of potential gas production in the Marcellus are in Garrett and western Allegany counties.
Largely forested and rural, the area offers scenic byways, premier trout streams, whitewater paddling, Deep Creek Lake, hunting, skiing, hiking and camping. It includes unique ecological communities and natural areas that protect watersheds and water quality, provide homes to threatened and endangered species and offer a near-wilderness experience.
“These areas are irreplaceable,” said DNR Secretary Joseph Gill. “We must do all that we can to protect them or we will lose them forever.”
To protect these areas and the rural character of the community, the Departments propose, among other recommendations, to require comprehensive planning for shale gas development before any drilling permits are issued.
“Maryland would be the first State to require this type of planning,” Advisory Commission member Harry Weiss said. “If adopted, it could further protect communities and the environment from the landscape-level effects of shale gas development.”
MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers cautioned: “In this report, the Departments propose stringent standards for all aspects of drilling and production, but there is more work to be done before a decision can be made about whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in Maryland.”
The Departments are proceeding on the other studies mandated by the Governor, including an economic study of the positive and negative effects of shale gas development on the local economy and a public health study.
Both Secretary Gill and Secretary Summers expressed their appreciation for the work of the Advisory Commission, stating that the commissioners’ participation helped the Departments to write a comprehensive report that took into account the views of many stakeholders.
The report on best practices recommends mandatory standards, including:
- Comprehensive gas drilling plans to minimize the amount of surface disturbance
- A prohibition against well pads in certain sensitive areas
- Set-backs from property lines, buildings, cultural and historical sites, state and federal parks, trails, wildlife management areas, wild and scenic rivers, scenic byways, drinking water wells and surface intakes for drinking water
- Use of tanks with secondary containment for all cuttings, returned drilling mud, flow back and produced water
- Recycling of flow back and produced water to the maximum extent practicable
- Use of ponds only for fresh, uncontaminated water
- Measures to control air emissions, noise and light pollution
- A methane leak detection and repair program from wellhead to transmission line
- Spill prevention control and countermeasures and emergency response plans
- Monitoring, record keeping and reporting, including monitoring of the air and water
- Site closure and reclamation
In preparation for this report, MDE engaged Keith Eshleman, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science – Appalachian Laboratory, to survey best practices recommended or employed in other states and provide recommendations suitable for Maryland. In general, the Departments accepted Dr. Eshleman’s recommendations, but they also have added and strengthened protections.
Maryland has issued no drilling permits for the Marcellus shale in the State. Applications for seven wells were submitted, but all have been withdrawn or placed in inactive status.
Estimates of the amount of recoverable natural gas in the Marcellus shale vary. In 2011, the United States Energy Information Administration estimated that the Marcellus is the largest shale gas formation in the country, with technically recoverable shale gas resources of 410 trillion cubic feet. It is estimated that more than half of this gas underlies Pennsylvania, that New York and West Virginia account for about 22 percent each and that Maryland has less than 2 percent of the total gas in the Marcellus shale.