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Fracking in Garrett and Allegany counties could have impact in Washington County

County could see increased employment, but there are environmental concerns too

January 17, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Drilling for natural gas in Garrett County could result in more jobs for Washington County residents and an improved economic climate.

But there are potential environmental concerns about the impact of natural gas drilling, Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment, said Thursday.

With Gov. Martin O’Malley setting aside $1.5 million in the proposed state budget for the next fiscal year to study the economic and environmental impacts of drilling for gas in Western Maryland, there is renewed talk and concern about the issue at the state capital.

And although Washington County does have some quantities of Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale — the rock formations from which natural gas is extracted — most of it is not recoverable.

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Summers said that any possible drilling activity in Garrett or Allegany counties could have some impact for Washington County.

Summers, who spoke at a House Environmental Affairs Committee meeting Thursday, said that in areas such as Pennsylvania which has seen significant drilling for natural gas, there has been significant demand for truck drivers who move equipment, water and wastewater.

“There is a lot of construction-type work that might attract workers,” Summers said.

Then there are the environmental concerns.

“Garrett County drains to the Potomac River, Washington County draws water from the Potomac,” Summers said.

Truck traffic could increase, and proper waste-water disposal is another issue, he said.

“All these things we are concerned about for Garrett County and the immediate impacts of the drilling, we got to make sure it doesn’t happen elsewhere,” Summers said.

Brigid Kenney, senior policy advisor in the state’s environment department, said a related issue could include pressure on housing capacity in the area.

But all that is in the future if Maryland goes ahead with drilling for natural gas.

Gov. O’Malley issued an executive order in 2011 stopping permits for hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas also known as fracking, according to a report.

At the same time, he created a commission called the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, which will now research the impact of natural gas drilling.

A report on best practices is due later this year while a final study will be ready in 2014.

“Are there impacts [negative] on Washington County? If we do our job right, there won’t be. That’s the whole point,” Summers said.

Although there is no fracking in the state right now, some legislators — Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, and Del. Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery — want a moratorium because of the fear of adverse environmental impacts or want to ban the practice in Maryland, according to wire and newspaper reports.

Del. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington and chairman of the Washington County delegation, said too many restrictions might just drive energy companies to other states.

“We will just make it easier for them to go Pennsylvania or West Virginia,” Serafini said. “It can be and has been done safely. I care about the environment.”

And when that happens, there would be a positive impact for Washington County and the state.

According to research by the Sage Policy Group, if Marcellus Shale drilling was developed in Western Maryland, it could lead to as many as 1,800 jobs by 2025 and the area could produce $300 million worth of natural gas annually by that time frame.

Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, a trade group, said most of those economic benefits would go to Garrett and parts of Allegany County.

“But there would be some benefit for Washington County too,” Cobbs said.

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