Western Maryland Could See Next Fracking Boom

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may be coming to Maryland’s Garrett and Allegany counties. The two counties, located in the mountainous western region of the state, set atop the gas-rich Marcellus shale.

Drilling in Marcellus shale is done via a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking, which is now used in about 90 percent of US gas and oil wells, involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. However, it is known that fracking fluids contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene. As we’ve reported extensively, fracking has caused serious water contamination problems in several states.

According to the Maryland Geological Survey, in the past couple of years, Garrett and Allegany counties have seen the arrival of “land men,” an industry term for those who come to an area in advance of the actual drilling of test wells for natural gas. These land men typically contact land owners (and mineral rights owners) to arrange to lease the land on which to drill.

In both Garrett and Allegany, some resident have signed drilling leases, and in December 2009, Samson Resources, a privately owned oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma applied for four drilling permits. The firm is seeking to drill three wells in Garrett County and a fourth well in Allegany County. If those wells are successful, Samson Resources will drill several hundred wells on 70,000 acres in the area over the next ten years.

But not everyone is excited about the prospect of fracking coming to Western Maryland. According to an article published last June in the Cumberland Times-News, some Garrett residents expressed concerns about problems fracking could create for the environment.

“It’s scary,” Barbara Pritts of Deer Park, Garrett County, told the Times-News. “These people in the northern end of the county (who are signing leases). I said, ‘wait, before you do this … you should be informed what can happen to your land later.’ Yet, they went ahead and signed up.”

According to the article, Pritts pointed to several newspaper articles from drilling communities in northeastern Pennsylvania that she said show there’s too much risk involved to allow drilling.

Some of the articles Pritts referred to were about the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania. Over the past several years, Cabot Oil & Gas drilled dozens of wells in Dimock. Sadly, problems with the cement casing on 20 of those caused contamination of local water wells, driving down property values and causing sickness. In some cases, levels of methane in some Dimock water wells are so high that homeowners are able to set water aflame as it comes out of their taps. Fifteen Dimock residents whose wells were contaminated are now suing Cabot.

Pritts said the situation in Pennsylvania showed that too much remains unknown about the consequences of drilling.

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