The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” next month, regulating rather than prohibiting a controversial drilling process that energy companies have used to retrieve massive quantities of natural gas from shale rock formations. But Western Maryland landowners looking for drilling royalties and local laborers looking for jobs should check their excitement. The rules that the outgoing governor plans to impose on Maryland fracking would be so tough that they would make it impossible for drilling to begin in the next two years and would diminish the likelihood that operations will happen in earnest after that.
Larry Hogan, the incoming Republican governor, has promised to review “every single one” of O’Malley’s regulations. That’s warranted – but his review should be based on the evidence. He must take care not to go too far in the other direction, scrapping many good proposed rules because some might be too strict.
The first thing to note about O’Malley’s plan is that it admits a crucial point: Drillers can conduct fracking operations with an acceptable degree of safety and environmental sensitivity. Many other states came to this conclusion years ago. But, under pressure from anti-fracking activists, Maryland’s leaders in 2011 forced an independent, three-year re-evaluation. State officials reviewed several independent evaluations of various concerns, including air quality, pollution control technology and public health, and they surveyed other states’ rules. Finally, they offered recommendations that would make Maryland the toughest state in which to frack.
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Many of the proposed rules make sense. A recent state report prescribed a variety of limits on air pollution, for example. Among the targets is methane, a primary constituent of natural gas and a powerful culprit in climate change. The state should require companies to minimize the amount they let slip into the air during their drilling operations, including by cutting down on leaks in storage and transport equipment.
Many of the early complaints about fracking had to do with what happens when drilling fluid flows back out of wells, laced with chemicals and contaminants from deep below the ground. Strong standards on wastewater handling are also due.
But some of the proposed rules are very restrictive. The governor, for example, would establish a de facto moratorium on any drilling for at least another two years because the rules would require drillers to conduct “background monitoring” of environmental conditions for at least that length of time before beginning operations – above and beyond even the expanded background monitoring that the state has already been doing. Of course this sort of information would be interesting and, potentially, useful. But it’s not necessary to run a reasonably safe operation. Air pollution reduction equipment, monitoring technologies and careful handling of waste are.
It’s past time that Maryland began allowing energy companies to proceed with fracking, with a sensible eye toward safety.
The Washington Post