Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News
OAKLAND — Garrett County commissioners have decided to discontinue meetings of the Garrett County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee until the state completes its work.
The advisory committee will meet on an as-needed basis, which will be determined by Bob Gatto, county commission chairman, the commissioners announced during Tuesday’s public meeting.
Commissioner Jim Raley, who serves as an ex-officio, or nonvoting, member on the advisory committee and is on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, indicated that the committee should continue to meet to discuss the issues surrounding shale drilling. The best practices management report from the state will be out soon, according to Raley.
“I would love for the local committee to make sure they look at it (the report) and see if they view anything that has been missed,” said Raley. “There are things I think the committee can do. I don’t believe in meeting just to meet. The jury is still out on whether (shale drilling) is an economic boom or economic bust.”
A survey that was sent to the 22 advisory committee members indicated that 62 percent wished to discontinue the meetings while the state and others try to develop best practices and 38 percent wanted to continue as is, according to Gatto.
No one favored the option of disbanding the advisory committee.
Raley stressed that there shouldn’t be gaps in the regulation of Marcellus shale.
“In the wind industr,y there are gaps and we are facing the consequences of those gaps because the state put nothing regulatory in place. Now we are backpeddling, trying to fill that gap,” said Raley. “I don’t want to see that happen with shale gas development.”
Rodney Glotfelty, advisory committee chairman, asked that the commissioners communicate the mission of the advisory committee again.
“The majority of the public comments (during the meetings) have been very useful, making sound recommendations,” said Glotfelty. “I think there is an expectation on some of the public’s part that the committee should recommend to you to ban hydrofracking in Garrett County. That is really not our purpose. The committee was established to look at the process of permitting hydrofracking in Maryland and in Garrett County specifically.”
If fracking were to come to the county, the committee would look at what could be done locally to mitigate any environmental impacts and what could be done to maximize the economic benefits.
“As long as that is the mission of the committee, I think we won’t get bogged down in some of these inflammatory arguments that go on,” said Glotfelty.
Raley agreed with Glotfelty and said the commissioners would give the advisory committee direction at times.
“Obviously, it’s a sensitive issue. When you try and put the committee together it’s virtually impossible to find someone who is totally neutral,” said Raley. “The public has not been as kind and considerate some nights.”
Raley stressed that he hopes information would continue to be provided via the advisory commission website.
Eric Robison, president of the nonprofit group CitizenShale, said the advisory committee should be looking at local issues such as emergency management, road bonding, gas pipelines and tourism.
“With us not having the ability with comprehensive zoning, we have got to be looking at how permitting is going to be able to address those types of things,” said Robison.
The committee has made recommendations to commissioners on emergency management and pipelines, according to Glotfelty.
Robison suggested setting standards or guidelines that are specific to the gas industry.
“This is the industry that may impact us more prominently than the wind turbines,” said Robison. “I am really bothered that we are going to shelve this temporarily until we find items that need to be addressed. There are items that need to be addressed right now.”
The committee has been meeting for more than two years and was formed around the same time the governor’s commission was formed, according to Gatto.
“I’m very proud of the work the committee has done in the last two years,” said Glotfelty.
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at email@example.com.