A natural-gas well head sits alongside the Margraff Plantation Trails in Accident, Md. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
The Washington Post
By Josh Hicks
February 26, 2017
FROSTBURG, Md. — The small towns and mountainous rural areas of Western Maryland are dotted with scores of well heads, a reminder of the copious natural-gas reserves that lie underground.
Here, amid farms, faded industrial sites and a growing number of wineries and tourist attractions, the debate over whether to allow hydraulic fracturing seems far more immediate than in the State House in Annapolis, 170 miles to the southeast.
The controversial drilling method, better known as “fracking,” could bring thousands of jobs and tens of million of dollars in revenue to communities located along the massive rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale. But those benefits would be relatively short-lived, and there is some degree of environmental risk, despite guidelines that state officials say would be among the most stringent in the nation.
The four Republican lawmakers who represent this independent-minded part of the state solidly support fracking and oppose a proposed ban being pushed by downstate lawmakers. But their constituents are deeply divided.
Many longtime landowners, especially struggling farmers hoping to supplement their incomes with gas royalties and land leases, want in on the fracking boom. Other residents are reluctant, afraid of potential harm to the environment, public health and property values.
The ambivalence was evident one recent afternoon when Del. Wendel R. Beitzel (R-Garrett) visited the home of Aaron Miller, who was splitting firewood with his sister Heather and wife, Jacey, not far from a natural-gas well head.
All three Millers are Republicans, but none agree with their representative on the merits of fracking, especially given recent news reports about fracking-related earthquakes in places such as Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” Heather Miller said. “It’s a hometown, loving-your-environment thing.”
A controversial industry
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting huge quantities of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to release natural gas from rock formations. The industry provides more than two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production now, up from a small fraction in 2000. It has helped the United States keep energy prices low and leapfrog Russia as the world’s leading natural-gas producer.
A two-year state moratorium on fracking is set to expire in October. The House environmental committee held a hearing on the proposal for a permanent ban last week, and the corresponding Senate committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday.
The two bills have 90 co-sponsors — none from Allegany or Garrett counties.
The legislature is also considering bills to extend the fracking moratorium for another two years, and a proposal, introduced by Beitzel and Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett) to create a fund to compensate landowners who cannot sell or lease their natural gas interests if a ban takes effect. The latter measure has seven co-sponsors in the House, all Republicans from rural parts of the state, and none in the Senate…..
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