Maryland’s House of Delegates on Friday passed legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state, but a major hurdle remains in the Senate, where a key lawmaker has resisted efforts to permanently prohibit the controversial gas-extraction method.
The bill passed the Democratic-majority House 97 to 40, with eight Republicans supporting it.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), who chairs the Senate committee in charge of reviewing the proposal, has said she sees little sense in trying to move the measure to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk unless both legislative chambers can approve it with veto-proof majorities, the Baltimore Sun reported Friday.
Hogan has said he supports hydraulic fracturing as long as the state implements strict safeguards for the practice, commonly known as fracking.
The 141-member House needs 85 votes to override a veto from the governor, while the 47-member Senate needs 29 votes for such action. Anti-fracking advocates say they are a few votes short of that number in the Senate.
“If Joan Carter Conway declared today that she too supports a ban, then it’s going to go to Hogan’s desk, because not only will we have her vote, but several people have said they’ll support it if she does,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release oil or natural gas.
A two-year moratorium on the practice is in effect until October. Conway has proposed a bill to extend the hold another two years and require counties to hold referendums in 2018 on whether to allow the extraction method.
Environmentalists want a permanent ban, saying no regulations can eliminate fracking’s potential to cause water contamination, air pollution and earthquakes, all of which have occurred to varying degrees in states where fracking has become common in recent years.
Proponents of hydraulic fracturing say it can be done safely and that the practice would bring jobs, economic benefits and new tax revenue to Garrett and Allegany counties, where the activity is most likely to occur.
Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) said his county needs the fracking industry. “We’re poor — we’re very, very poor,” he said. “A chance for someone to get a thirty- or forty- or fifty- or sixty-thousand-dollar-a-year job driving a truck might make a little bit of difference in that.”
Maryland’s Department of the Environment proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations last year that would bar drilling in four Maryland watersheds and require four layers of steel casing and cement around fracking wells to prevent water, gas and other fluids from migrating to other areas. Ben H. Grumbles, the state’s environmental secretary, said the rules would be among the most stringent in the nation.
Del. Wendell R. Beitzel (R-Garrett), a fracking supporter, said the state’s draft guidelines are so strict they would essentially have the same effect as prohibiting fracking in Maryland. “There’s not a gas or oil company in the world that would want to come in there and drill,” he said.