Maryland natural resources officials are trying to learn everything they can about drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation before granting any permits, saying they hope to avoid the environmental problems that Pennsylvania has endured.
About a year ago, two companies applied to drill for natural gas in Garrett County, in Maryland's far western corner. That county is one of two in the state that overlay the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich rock formation about the size of Greece that also stretches across Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. Already, several companies have leased 100,000 acres of land in Garrett and Allegany counties.
Maryland Department of the Environment Acting Secretary Robert Summers said the department has both the authority and the flexibility to regulate drilling effectively. But as he follows reports of water contamination and wastewater problems in Pennsylvania, he said, he can't help but worry about what would happen should Maryland approve the permits before it had looked at every issue. As a result, Summers said, he supports a bill winding through the General Assembly that calls for a two-year study before drilling begins.
"All of us, not just the regulatory agencies but the companies as well, have learned from the mistakes made in Pennsylvania," Summers said. "We're making sure we don't repeat the mistakes they've made."
John Griffin, Maryland's Secretary of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, agrees that the state is not yet ready. He said the department still has to inventory its extensive land holdings in Garrett County and determine where it has mineral rights. Among his concerns is the preservation of the Savage River, its adjacent state forest, and the Youghiogheny River, which remains the state's only scenic and wild river.