- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - People who want to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland rallied in the state capital Tuesday ahead of a hearing on legislation that would forbid fracking statewide.

Advocates of banning fracking cite health and environmental risks, while opponents of the ban cite economic benefits drilling could bring.

Sen. Robert Zirkin, the bill’s sponsor, said while the state frequently wrestles with balancing economic benefits against environmental concerns, fracking is too dangerous to allow.

“This is not one of those issues that lends itself to that debate,” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said at the rally. “This is a public health issue pure and simple.”

Maryland currently prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release natural gas. A state moratorium on issuing permits ends Oct. 1, 2017.

Supporters of a ban cite concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and earthquakes.

Some who don’t want to ban fracking entirely favor extending the moratorium for two years. A separate bill before lawmakers would do that. A current moratorium is set to expire in October.

Others say fracking should be allowed, because it would create jobs in western Maryland.

Opponents of a ban said they believed natural gas could be extracted safely by fracking, particularly with the guidelines set up by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Jeff Guido, who represents a group called Community Hub for Opportunities in Construction Employment, said he opposed the ban, because it would prevent job creation.

“We feel an outright ban on hydraulic fracking is equivalent to cutting your nose off to spite your face,” Guido said.

A 2014 Towson University study commissioned by the state found that gas drilling could create as many as 3,600 jobs over 10 years in economically distressed Garrett and Allegany counties in far western Maryland, which overlies part of the gas-rich Marcellus shale.

Fracking is allowed in many other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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