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Maryland Executive Order Creates Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative

Essig_Genevieve_COLORBy Genevieve J. Essig


Yesterday, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed an executive order which established the "Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative." According to the order, the purpose of the Initiative, which is to be administered jointly by the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is to "assist State policymakers and regulators in determining whether and how gas production from the Marcellus shale in Maryland can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources."

The initial task contemplated by the order is an investigation into potential legislation that would establish 1) a source of revenue (e.g., severance tax) to fund state activities relating to hydraulic fracturing, such as impact assessments and remediation of orphaned sites, and 2) standards of liability for damages caused by gas exploration and production. The findings and recommendations of this investigation are to be reported by December 31, 2011.

The longer-term task of the Initiative is to conduct a "study of the extraction of natural gas from shale formations in [Maryland], including the Marcellus shale formation." The study will review the results of other major related studies, including the EPA's study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, as well as evaluate the "short-term, long-term, and cumulative effects" of natural gas exploration and production in the formation, best practices, and potential changes to oil and gas laws and regulations. The scope of the study is significantly broader than that of the EPA study, as it will address not only impacts to drinking water but also topics ranging from greenhouse gas emissions from wells and transmission lines, to forest and habitat fragmentation, to impacts to local land use patterns and the character of rural areas and towns. A report addressing the best practices element is due August 1, 2012, and a report addressing the rest of the topics is due August 1, 2014.

The executive order can be viewed here.