ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill Tuesday to ban the hydraulic fracturing drilling process known as fracking in Maryland, the first state where a legislature has voted to bar the practice that actually has natural gas reserves.
The Republican governor signed the measure into law about a week after the bill was passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. Fracking for oil and gas isn’t being conducted in Maryland now, but a moratorium was set to end in October, which is when the ban technically takes effect.
Supporters of the ban said it was the first in the nation approved by a legislature in a state that has natural gas underground. Neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania allow fracking.
New York has banned fracking by executive order, and Vermont’s legislature has passed a ban in a symbolic gesture, because the state doesn’t have any oil or gas reserves to drill for.
Fracking opponents cited health and environmental concerns. The technique forces pressurized water and chemicals underground to break up rock and release the gas. Critics say the process and disposal of tainted wastewater pose risks of air pollution, earthquakes and property devaluation.
Del. Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Maryland’s Montgomery County, said the ban marked a significant milestone.
“I think the significance is that when you take two years to study the science and form a coalition of business people and environmentalists you can win,” Barve said. “You can even beat the oil and gas industry.”
Supporters of fracking contended it could have created jobs in the western part of the state that sits atop the Marcellus Shale, which runs underground from New York to Tennessee. A 2014 Towson University study found fracking could create 3,600 jobs over 10 years in economically distressed Garrett and Allegany counties in far western Maryland.
But fracking opponents also cited economic concerns in banning the drilling practice, noting costs in cleanup up potential spills and setbacks to tourism.
“It would cost millions, tens of millions of dollars to clean up, even if we could,” said Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill. “So there are a lot of aspects of this also from an economic perspective but also mostly from a public health perspective.”