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DRILLING DEEP Fracking to be major issue in 2017

BY STEVE BRAWNER Contributing Writer

Maryland has only 1 percent of the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale gas play, but 1 percent is a lot – particularly for two rural counties that could use the economic development. But before any drilling occurs, a lot of hurdles must be overcome – politically, legally, culturally and economically.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling have transformed American energy production. The techniques involve injecting chemicals, water and sand into rock formations to break them apart, releasing the natural gas. Then the drill pipe extends horizontally through the formation, allowing one well to retrieve far more product than in the past.

Spread across a number of states, including Maryland’s western rural counties of Allegany and Garrett, the Marcellus is the world’s second largest gas play. In Maryland, it produces dry gas – unlike other plays that also have crude oil, which is more valuable. A March 2012 report commissioned by the Maryland Petroleum Council and conducted by the Sage Policy Group found that the two counties, under a mid-case scenario, could produce 710.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas between 2016 and 2045. About 365 wells would operate over that time period, each requiring about 420 individuals

working in 150 occupations to come online, and those are direct jobs. The peak year, 2025, could see $300 million in natural gas output in 2011 dollars. The report said that 1,814 Marylanders would benefit from well drilling and maintenance jobs, royalty payments and state and local spending. Maryland would collect $214 million over the course of development, while Garrett County would collect about $162 million and Allegany County about $65 million.

Unlike other states such as North Dakota and Louisiana that have jumped at the opportunity offered by natural gas, Maryland has been slow to embrace it. The state doesn’t have a history of drilling for petroleum products and has a stronger environmentalist presence than states farther west. Between 2011 and

2016, legislation has been introduced in every session to prohibit fracking, prevent the transportation of fracking wastewater, and impose strict liability standards on well permittees. Fracking opponents have said they will work to enact a complete ban in the 2017 session.

Maryland Motor Truck Association President Louis Campion said the issue will be a big one in 2017, and the future is “cloudy.” The two counties in the formation are very rural with legislators who support drilling. Political opponents in Maryland are not from the Marcellus counties. The politics can be difficult because the players aren’t always the expected ones.

 BEHIND THE WHEEL — Q4 Winter 2016 25

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