- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Legislation that limits when and how fracking could take place in Maryland passed Tuesday in both chambers of the state legislature.

Senators voted 29-17 for a bill that holds drilling companies strictly liable for injuries to residents or their property, and in the case of legal action companies would have to disclose what chemicals they use for drilling.

In a 93-45 House vote, delegates supported a three-year moratorium on the drilling practice and called for establishing a scientific review panel to look at impacts to public health and the environment.

“These bills are not mutually exclusive. I think there’s much more study that needs to be done on this, particularly the public health effects and environmental effects of fracking,” said Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County who sponsored the liability legislation. “The law we just passed from the Senate holds the correct people responsible if there is damage. Why should taxpayers be on the hook for environmental damage caused by the industry?”

The hydraulic fracturing process pumps highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into the ground, shaking loose rocks and releasing gas.

Maryland currently does not have any fracking, but in 2011 then-Gov. Martin O’Malley created an advisory commission to study the potential for drilling in Maryland’s western Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, which sit atop the Marcellus Shale deposit.

West Virginia and Pennsylvania allow fracking, but New York banned the practice due to health concerns.

Health concerns prompted the House bill that sets a three-year moratorium on issuing, accepting and reviewing permits for fracking.

Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County, chairs the environment and transportation committee that gave the bill a favorable vote. He said the bill is “sensibly … hitting the pause button.”

“What the House said here is we do not know what the long-term health effects of this technology are, we are unwilling to proceed until we get the science right,” Barve said.

But the worry, according to critics of the House fracking bill, is that too many regulations will keep drilling companies out of the state, along with jobs and economic development.

“Obviously this bill is an attempt to ban the practice altogether,” said Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett County, who submitted most of the failed amendments to the moratorium bill. “All these hurdles and things have been placed in front of natural gas development in Maryland. We’re surrounded in western Maryland by Pennsylvania and West Virginia where this activity is ongoing and occurring. So what reason would they even want to come into Maryland in face of this opposition that they’re getting?”

In the Senate, the liability law dodged an attempt by Sen. Stephen Waugh, R-Calvert County, to send the bill back to the committee level.

Each chamber will now consider the other’s bill.

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