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To Frack Or Not To Frack? Will Maryland Legislators Place Constituents’ Health At Risk?

 

“I’m a farmer, which is where the story starts,” began Kim Alexander.

Worried about health problems and the environmental impact from fracking, Kim recounted her long walk. “In October, my friend and I took to the road, the trail, the river side; 320 miles across the state of Maryland in a walking performance to educate, celebrate and protect our watershed and the communities it supports, from the far ranging impacts of natural gas development.”

Kim also visited Dimock, Pa., and gathered water from the Ely family, whose well water was made undrinkable by fracking.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” - Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” – Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

I would frequently see the drilling in rural Pennsylvania when I worked in Butler and Williamsport hospitals. I was particularly disturbed by a scene at Summit Elementary like this, which, given what we know about the health dangers of fracking, struck me as a terrible threat to children.

     Natural gas flaring - school - image by Kelly Finan

Natural gas flaring – school – image by Kelly Finan

Recently, I attended an Allegany College of Maryland meeting of the Western Maryland (WMD) state legislators on fracking. I then went to Frostburg State University to get background for this series and met Kim and other activists, and have followed their path, learning about the health risks I outlined in my earlier posts.

Background on Maryland bills

There are two competing bills in the Maryland legislature that will soon come up for a vote. SB0740/HB1325 would prohibit fracking in Maryland. Another competing bill, SB0862, from Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D) calls for a referendum county-by-county and further study and regulations. While this initially might sound reasonable, it’s not. One obvious problem is that if residents oppose the fracking, a new bill to challenge that can be proposed every year (p. 3, sec G3-4). A re-vote is not a provision if the pro-fracking faction wins. Carter Conway’s bill specifies that the regulations are to rely on the recommendations of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission and of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but excludes studies from Johns Hopkins and other research institutions from consideration. Why would that be?

We know that the EPA has failed to protect residents from drilling, as I explained here. Public Herald has recently released a thorough study showing that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has hidden more than 9,000 complaints.

Given that about three-quarters of Maryland’s residents live in places where anti-fracking resolutions are in place, allowing fracking to be decided by the two westernmost counties is likely to disenfranchise them and put their health at risk.

Also, as Barbara Hurd, local resident and acclaimed writer, recently put it, “We live in places intricately bound to other places. Our communities are connected to other communities; our habitats to other lands. The effects of fracking do not abide by jurisdictional boundaries. No regulations can stop polluted water and tainted air from traveling wherever they will.”

Growing health concerns, yet division over fracking in MD

At the Allegany College information session, anti-fracking comments from citizens dominated. At the last Cumberland City Council meeting, 42 attended to support the ban and 13 spoke against fracking. At both, concerns focused on:

  • Air and water pollution and health risks from fracking

  • Increased traffic and accidents on windy roads

  • Lack of transparency, non-disclosure agreements and gag orders to hide harms

  • Lack of trust in safety regulations and monitoring.

  • Risk to the livelihood of the farmers and to the tourism industry

Dr. Robin Bissell, a family practice physician in Garrett County since 1999, worries about possible contamination of our water especially because so many families use wells so there’s little chance of detecting contamination if it occurs. Furthermore, with the weakening of the EPA, it’s unlikely that adequate regulation will occur.

Also, there are documented increases in asthma exacerbations due to air contamination. With ACA being threatened, many of our patients may find themselves without insurance. If they have symptoms, they may not seek medical attention when they should.

Two other Garrett County physicians concur. Dr. Tom Johnson added, “It is not prudent for our community to accept this risk at this time.” Another physician, who specifically noted that he is a Republican and Trump supporter, also opposes fracking in WMD.

Medical associations are increasingly voicing their opposition. The Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting the bill to ban fracking altogether in Maryland, as is the Maryland Public Health Association. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Medical Society unanimously approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking, because of the growing evidence of its harms.

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions - image courtesy Food and Water Watch

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions – image courtesy Food and Water Watch

A poll by OpinionWorks in 2015 showed 68% of Maryland residents wanted a ban or long-term moratorium; only 3% favored fracking. A similar poll last fall did not include the moratorium; 56% supported a ban vs. 28%. The margin in Garrett County, where most drilling would occur, and a Washington Post poll last fall had similar results.

The Western Maryland delegates are strongly pro-fracking and keep telling people that they have strong support from the citizens of WMD, although all the polls above contradict that. I have reached out to three local state legislators for further comment. Senator George C. Edwards returned my call. Edwards tried to reassure me about health risks. I asked, “You say that fracking will be safe and well-regulated…but who will do that?” Edwards responded, “We’re going to have the strictest regs… We’re not Pa.!” Asked about the safety of all the heavy trucking equipment carrying chemicals, polluted wastewater and possibly liquefied natural gas maneuvering on windy, mountainous roads in an area notorious for blowing snow and fog, he deflected the question, saying that gas would be transported across Maryland by pipeline—about 250 miles—presumably to Dominion Cove Point’s processing facility on the Chesapeake.

Recent protests against TransCanada’s plan to run a pipeline under the Potomac River, the water source for millions of people in the metropolitan D.C. area, also illustrate the health concerns.

Further casting doubt on reliance on regulatory oversight for our safety is Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) inaugural statement, “We must get the state government off our backs, and out of our pockets, so that we can grow the private sector.”

That’s similar to the Trump administration’s vows to deregulate safety requirements across the board and to dismantle agencies. Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA multiple times, is now the head of the EPA. It is unlikely that he or Gov. Hogan would then monitor and enforce environmental regulations.

Also, to my surprise, Del. Wendell Beitzell, who was assistant director of environmental health at the Garrett County Health Department, said at the ACC meeting, “Fracking poses no threats.”

Conflicts of interest

Beitzel’s comment astonished me, so I wondered why he felt so strongly. He apparently has considerable financial incentive to support fracking. In 2011, Maryland spent $455,000 for agreeing not to develop his farmland in Garrett County. Beitzel also introduced a bill, despite the conservation easement, to allow drilling.

Now, Beitzel has sponsored bill HB1461, cross-filed in the Md. Senate by Edwards as SB0980, to provide restitution for large landholders who can’t frack their land if there is a ban. Where do they propose the funding for this come from? The owners of renewable energy systems that generate electricity through the solar energy photovoltaic systems would be taxed 25% of their sales for this “restitution fund.” There is, of course, no similar restitution fund for damages caused by fracking.

Jobs

There is a common misconception, promulgated by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D), who said that fracking “affects two counties where there are no jobs whatsoever” other than prisons. This is not true, as tourism has been increasing in the counties. A recent op-ed noted, “Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two ­thirds of Garrett County’s tax base…nowhere in the world do fracking and world­-class tourism mix.”

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. - Rafting image - courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing - Mike Cline, Wikipedia

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. –
Rafting image – courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing – Mike Cline, Wikipedia

When Kim canvassed local businesses, no one supported fracking. The only people who did not sign the ban petition expressed fear that signing would hurt their businesses.

Buckel’s office e-mailed me that he believed fracking could bring “492 to 2,425” jobs. But on a WCBC radio interview, he said, “It might provide “25, 50, 100, 250 jobs”.  More alternative facts, it seems. Note, too, that mostly out-of-state workers get the high-paying jobs. Local worker jobs are usually low-paid, low-skill, part-time jobs.

Tourism is also on the upswing. Garrett County has seen over 6% growth in tourism in 2016, with real estate making a comeback from historic lows in 2008, up 16% this same year. A report produced by the Outdoor Industry Association found that recreation employed about 6.1 million people, vs. 2.1 for oil and gas.

A new report from the Department of Energy says that 3.4 million Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry in 2016 vs. 3 million for fossil fuels. Further, renewable energy employment grew by nearly 18% between Q2 2015 and Q1 2016.

Conclusion

It has been heartening to witness grassroots mobilization and activism. These people in WMD love their land and are driven to protect it and downstream communities. Kim even wrote this anti-fracking ballad:

There is growing opposition to fracking by health, environmental and conservation groups. New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have statewide bans or moratoria. Florida is considering a ban to protect its tourism and water—a bill that has notable bipartisan support.

"Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing." - image ©LuckyG

“Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing.” – image ©LuckyG

Instead of focusing on bills that risk our clean water, clean air and our countryside, it would seem far wiser to reward innovative approaches to land use and investments in renewable energy and tourism, both of which have a much broader benefit to local communities and the state, and which pose no risks to our—and our children’s—health.

For more medical/pharma news and perspective, follow me on Twitter @drjudystone or here at Forbes.

 

 

The case for a Maryland fracking ban

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Two bills are pending. One bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years — though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.

About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.

Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.

Furthermore, Maryland lacks the large-scale deposits, pipeline and processing infrastructure, and interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) needed to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices — setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.

Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings — all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.

In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.

Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake — second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.

To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.

Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders — like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015 — prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture and green energy.

Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.

Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.

The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?

Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.

Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term — measured in 20-year periods —methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.

For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.

For more information, click here.

Property Owners’ Association: State Money For Garrett County

February 7, 2017

Folks,

The State (DNR) owns approximately 90,000 acres of land in Garrett County which is not subject to property taxes for the county due to state ownership.  The current means to recoup some of the lost property taxes is to provide the county with 25% of the revenue obtained from the sale of timber on this land.  For the last several years, however, very little timber has been harvested so the revenue coming to Garrett County has been very low.  This process currently exists throughout Maryland for all counties in which the state owns land that cannot be taxed.
To remedy this situation and insure a fair amount of revenue, consistent with the amount of acreage owned by the state, this bill will provide a more equitable reimbursement of funds to Garrett County for land owned by the State of Maryland. The proposed bill breaks down the acreage into “units” of 10,000 acres and would mandate $250,000 per unit income to the county annually.  SB273 will make the County’s reimbursement approximately $2 million annually. SB273 is being heard by the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee on Wednesday, February 15 at 1:00 p.m. Please send written testimony to George.edwards@senate.state.md.us by February 14, asking the Budget & Taxation Committee to give SB273 a FAVORABLE REPORT, and indicate if you plan to testify in person. Senate Bill 273 (SB 273) may be seen here. The existing system related to timber would no longer be used.
Your POA supports this bill because it is a fair way to reimburse the county for taxes that currently cannot be collected, and asks that you consider sending a written testimony  of endorsement.
Thanks very much in advance for your support on this bill which, if passed, will insure Garrett County is fairly reimbursed for uncollectable tax revenue.

  Cheers,

Bob Hoffmann

President

For more information, click here.

Garrett officials delay fracking study

OAKLAND — Garrett County’s commissioners have decided not to conduct a study on the economic impacts of fracking.

The commissioners recently rejected all bids for the proposed study, which would have explored possible detriments to tourism, property values and outdoor recreation opportunities likely to occur if hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production is allowed in Western Maryland.

With the Maryland General Assembly expected to take up legislation that could ban fracking or extend a current moratorium on the process, officials decided it wasn’t the right time for the study.

“If the legislature passes a moratorium versus a ban, or takes no action, there will still be sufficient time to do the study before any permits are issued,” said Kevin Null, county administrator, as he summed up the views of the commissioners.

The study would take at least six months to complete and wouldn’t be ready prior to legislative action. The commissioners also said the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Commerce are withholding funding until the legislature’s action is known.

More than 60 elected officials in Maryland have signed a letter of support for a statewide fracking ban. Not on that list are members of the District 1 legislative delegation that represents Garrett and Allegany counties — Sen. George Edwards and Dels. Wendell Beitzel, Jason Buckel and Mike McKay.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, is expected to introduce legislation to ban the process. A moratorium is in place until October.

Marcellus shale formations throughout the eastern United States harbor large natural gas reserves. Shale is a sedimentary rock formation that extends underground through about 95,000 square miles in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

In Maryland, the shale formations are found only in Allegany and Garrett counties, with the bulk of the formations in Garrett County.

 For more information, click here.

State Panel Puts Fracking Regulations on Hold in Maryland

A panel of lawmakers in Maryland has reportedly asked the state Department of the Environment (MDE) to delay implementing rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

According to reports, the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) sent a letter to the MDE last Thursday. Lawmakers on the committee said they wanted more time to study the agency’s proposed rules, which were scheduled to take effect the next day.

Only two western panhandle counties in Maryland — Allegany and Garrett — overlie the Marcellus Shale, a basin which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates could contain as much as 2.383 Tcf of technically recoverable natural gas.

The Maryland General Assembly, which meets for 90 days during its regular session, is scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 11 and adjourn on April 10. The session could also be extended until May 10.

The MDE submitted its proposed fracking regulations to the AELR last September. The proposed rules included a 2,000-foot setback for well pads from private drinking water wells and the surface water intake of public drinking water systems and springs; one year of baseline water monitoring; well integrity and pressure testing; and requirements covering air quality, emergency response, wastewater management, well plugging and bonding.

Fracking opponents are pushing for an outright ban. A two-year moratorium on the practice, which took effect after lawmakers passed SB 409 in 2015, is set to expire on Oct. 1.

“Our neighbors talk about putting their properties on the market if fracking is permitted,” Friends of Deep Creek Lake, an environmental group opposed to fracking, told the AELR at a hearing last month. “Such actions would be devastating to the local economy and in the long term would not be offset by fracking-related revenues.”

Supporters of oil and gas development in Maryland aren’t thrilled with the MDE’s proposed regulations, either.

“We are an industry that has a proven record of providing environmental and economic benefits,” Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, said last month. “As written, a number of the proposed regulations are overly restrictive and would undermine our proven track record on safety proven through the development of millions of wells.

“We need policies that protect jobs and investment in Western Maryland, and these new regulations would take us in the wrong direction.”

For more information, click here.

 

Lawmakers should ban fracking in Maryland

As a Baltimore City resident and a homeowner in Garrett County, I think the most recent round of regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment fall far short of adequately protecting the environment and citizens from the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

The MDE’s proposals make it clear that the only “regulatory” course of action is for the public’s representatives in Annapolis to approve a complete ban on fracking next year.

In recent years we have gone from a mandate in which the state would only permit fracking if there were no “unacceptable” risks, to a set of proposals that accepted some moderate and high-level risks, and finally to the current proposal, which reduces previous protections and seeks to codify moderate and high-level risks as the norm.

The latest proposals increase the drilling site well pad setbacks from personal water wells from their previously proposed 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet. This is an improvement but still far from adequate.

The governor’s commission previously identified 2,000 feet as posing a moderate risk; a minimum of 3,200 feet would pose a low-level risk and be much safer. The new regulations propose only a 300-foot setback from streams and wetlands.

Keep in mind that fracking could well come to over half of the state. Citizens should seriously consider whether it is acceptable to have hydraulic fracturing operations a mere 300 feet from streams, rivers, wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay.

Nobody, except those who stand to make a profit, wants their natural environments industrialized in this way. Nobody wants the dangers of fracking in their backyard.

In its June 2016 proposals, the MDE identified fracking restrictions for Western Maryland watersheds that eventually flow into the Potomac River and through heavily populated areas of the state.

In the recent proposal, MDE adds the Deep Creek Lake watershed to its restricted list, in what can only be considered a cynical effort to appease wealthy property owners. Of course, most people on Deep Creek Lake know that fracking anywhere in Western Maryland destroys the natural environment as well as their property values on the lake.

Even so these protections still leave two-thirds of Garrett County — the Youghiogheny River watershed — vulnerable to the dangers of fracking.

Implicit in MDE’s proposed watershed restrictions is the idea that these environments and the people who live there need to be protected from the harms of unregulated industrialization. But apparently the environment and people in the Youghiogheny Watershed don’t merit such protections.

In what amounts to a “get a bigger hammer” approach, MDE suggests adding another layer of well-casing in drilling operations. Again, implicit in this idea is an acknowledgment that well casings are imperfect and that they frequently fail, allowing flow back contaminants to seep into the ground and contaminate water supplies, animals and people.

As for the methane emissions that contribute even more to global warming and climate change than carbon dioxide, MDE essentially leaves that responsibility to the gas industry itself.

It’s clear that MDE is under-resourced and unprepared to regulate emissions and most other aspects of the hydraulic fracturing process. These are just a few of the concerns that arise from the recently released regulatory proposals.

The problems associated with the hydraulic fracturing at every stage of the process make it clear that a fracking industry that has proven so irresponsible has no business operating in Maryland. There is only one course of action citizens can take and that is to support a total ban on fracking in the state.

Stephen Mogge, Baltimore

 

For more information, click here.

 

State introduces fracking regulations, one year ahead of ban’s end

The Hogan administration has proposed rules that would prohibit the gas-drilling technique known as fracking within 2,000 feet of a private drinking water well, require steel casings around gas bores to a depth of 100 feet, and require energy companies to replace any water supply that is contaminated by the practice.

The Maryland Department of the Environment submitted the measures Monday to a legislative committee that reviews regulations, a year before a state ban on fracking ends.

The plan was unveiled five days ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline set by lawmakers for the rules to be formally adopted. Department of the Environment officials now expect the approval process to finish by the end of the year instead.

Secretary Ben Grumbles said the rules “will be the most stringent and protective environmental shale regulations in the country.”

For more information, click here.

 

Garrett panel refining plans for gas-drilling economic study

FRACKING- it’s been all over the news, especially here in Garrett County.

On Tuesday evening, The Shale Gas Advisory Group will be meeting in Oakland to discuss the impact that fracking will have on tourism, real-estate, outdoor recreation etc.

For more information, click here.

 

Proposed rules to govern fracking in Maryland draw criticism from environmentalists and energy industry

The Hogan administration is proposing rules that would limit the hurdles that energy companies must overcome before they could start the gas-drilling process known as fracking, while also requiring more protections against groundwater contamination.

In revising a plan crafted by the administration of then-Gov.Martin O’Malley, state environmental regulators on Wednesday endorsed speeding the review of natural gas wells, allowing them closer to homes and waterways and reducing the amount of environmental testing required before drilling could begin.

For more, click here.

Western Md. Realtors support fracking moratorium bills

Posted: Mar 10, 2015 2:58 PM EDT Updated: Mar 10, 2015 2:58 PM EDT

OAKLAND, Md. (AP) – Real-estate brokers in far western Maryland are supporting a proposal in the Maryland General Assembly for an eight-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas pending further study.

The Garrett County Board of Realtors expressed concern Tuesday about the possible impact of fracking on public health. They say fears of health problems from well-water contamination can reduce home values by at least 20 percent.

Garrett County contains most of Maryland’s share of the gas-rich Marcellus shale.

More here.