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Garrett County Chamber of Commerce supports shale gas development

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce has adopted a position in support of Marcellus shale gas development and encourages the Maryland Department of the Environment to authorize the process of allowing for the safe extraction in the county, according to a white paper released last month.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission’s final report is set to be released in August 2014.

The white paper explains the chamber’s position and was distributed as a way to educate its members, according to Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the chamber, who is also a member of the Garrett County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee.

“We recognize the impact that our nation’s energy dependency has had in shaping our domestic and foreign policy,” states the paper. “Although currently no national energy policy exists, we feel that it is likely that we will see a shift in favor of greater reliance on domestic energy sources, including natural gas. Our county is uniquely positioned to provide to our state and country the prospect of a substantial and viable energy source to meet our domestic needs now and in the future.”

The paper was drafted with the assistance of members of the chamber’s Legislative Affairs Committee and board of directors, according to Christian. It was distributed to Sen. George Edwards, Delegate Wendell Beitzel and The Greater Cumberland Committee.

The chamber represents more than 630 member firms, according to the paper. However, at least one of the firms that the chamber represents does not support the intent of the paper.

“I would like to go on record stating that we do not support this letter either in spirit, intent or content,” writes C.M. Herdering of Husky Power Dogsledding at Mountain MD Kennels, LLC. “Nor did we receive any request for input. Nor do we support ‘the expedited study of shale gas development,’ which the white paper proposes.”

The Legislative Affairs Committee is open to all members and every member had the opportunity to provide input, said Christian in an email to the Times-News.

“Is it too much to hope that the chamber withdraw this letter until after actually taking a poll of its members’ position on the subject?” writes Herdering. “I have no doubt … they can issue a more comprehensive and unbiased plan — a plan which balances growth, environmental safety and everyone’s quality of life.”

In other states where drilling has already occurred, communities have welcomed large increase in employment, which in turn spurs business growth and expansion; increase in tax revenues; and other tertiary activity, according to the paper. Landowners have also benefited in the form of leasing and royalty payments from gas drilling.

The Garrett County Farm Bureau has also voiced support for responsible, safe development of natural gas from shale and recognizes it as a potential revenue source, according to the paper.

“In a county where our largest source of revenue is from the recreation industry — those drawn by the beauty and contentment of our land — it astounds us that the chamber would support the massive industrialization that natural gas development would require,” writes Herdering. “There may be jobs and revenue created — but these are temporary jobs which leave a lasting and potentially irreparable scar on our landscape, way of life and tourism industry.”

It is estimated that the total maximum lifetime value of Marcellus shale play in Allegany County is $15.72 billion, and $32.4 billion in Garrett County, according to the paper. The Utica shale play is estimated to be even greater.

“The chamber recognizes that while shale gas development holds tremendous economic development potential, the growth of this industry also presents challenges, including strains on existing infrastructure as well as environmental impact concerns,” states the paper. “We cannot miss this incredible development opportunity and by working together we can ensure that shale gas development is handled correctly providing the greatest benefits with only minimal risks.”

Natural gas is difficult to extract from shale because the gas is trapped in tiny pores within the rock, according to the paper. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling have made extracting commercially via-ble in recent years. Fracking has been used in the county since the 1950s by Texas Easter Gas Pipeline Co. with no apparent negative impact, according to the paper.

Although the process of fracking has been around for decades, the technique for fracturing shale rock is somewhat new and has been used on Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. Activity in Maryland has not occurred yet, pending the development of regulations, according to the paper. Allegany and Garrett counties are the only areas in the state with natural gas reserves in Marcellus shale, according to a previous Times-News article.

“For a community that is so environmentally conscious and touts sustainability, we believe that Garrett County is perfectly suited to be a leader in supplying natural gas to the Eastern continental United States,” states the paper.

“We further believe that Maryland has the leadership in place to ensure that responsible drilling of shale gas can take place utilizing known techniques and best practices in a safe and responsible manner.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com

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