UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Council is considering legislation that would ban fracking in the county.
Council Bill 3-2016, introduced at the Feb. 2 council meeting, would amend the residential, commercial and industrial tables of uses in the county’s zoning ordinance to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking. Fracking is a way of mining for oil or natural gas that involves injecting water, sand and various chemicals at high pressure into a well in order to create or enhance fractures in the rock and allow the resources to be accessed more easily.
“If we allowed fracking it would have really serious environmental and health implications for Prince George’s County,” Councilwoman Mary Lehman, the legislation’s main sponsor, said. “Permitting for fracking and the extraction of gas is only done through the state, so the ban addresses it from a zoning perspective.”
The Maryland Department of the Environment regulates all mining in the state, according to Jay Apperson, deputy director of its office of communications. The department is currently in the process of developing regulations on fracking in response to a General Assembly mandate passed last year. That mandate also includes a moratorium on fracking until Oct. 1, 2017, so no regulations would go into effect and no permits could be issued until that date, Apperson said.
Lehman said her bill allows the county to get ahead of the state by pre-emptively banning the practice in Prince George’s County, regardless of what the state ultimately decides.
She also said the ongoing zoning ordinance rewrite being undertaken county-wide would not impact this legislation’s effectiveness.
Four other council members – Deni Taveras, Todd Turner, Dannielle Glaros and Mel Franklin – have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, making Lehman hopeful for its eventual passage.
Councilman Todd Turner (District 4) said he signed onto the bill as a result of information he learned last fall during a meeting with constituents in the Greenbelt area.
“We went through a process of finding out what the nature of the issue is,” including reviewing studies done on the topic, he said. “After that meeting there was a great consensus that it is not something that was appropriate for Prince George’s County.”
While much discussion on fracking nationally centers around the Marcellus Shale deposit that stretches across West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania as well as several counties in Western Maryland, a deposit of natural gas does exist beneath Prince George’s County. According to a June 2012 report from the U.S. Geological Survey, an area known as the Taylorsville Basin could contain about 1.06 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas. (For comparison, a July 2011 Energy Information Administration report said 410 trillion cubic feet were confirmed discovered in the Marcellus Shale at that time.) The basin stretches from near Richmond, Va., into the Chesapeake Bay north of Annapolis, including parts of several Maryland counties like southern Prince George’s (an area roughly east of U.S. 301 and south of Rte. 4).
In 2014, Texas-based Shore Exploration and Development Corporation leased land in Virginia for use in fracking the Taylorsville Basin.
“No one has applied here yet, there’s nobody in line, but they could be, really quickly,” Lehman said. “We just don’t want to be in that position.”
“The number one reason to ban fracking is obviously the adverse environmental impact,” Turner said. “There have been numerous studies on the impact on those communities near the sites.”
Lehman said fracking also poses health concerns for the community with groundwater contamination, especially for residents who use wells, as many in the southern parts of the county do, and air pollution.
The bill has been assigned to the planning, zoning and economic development committee, where it is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 16. Lehman anticipates having “a great group of witnesses” to testify.
“I’m looking forward to the conversation,” she said. “It’s a very important and timely discussion to have.”