Maryland Senate Adopts Bill Protecting Residents From Fracking Damage

Maryland senators on Friday showed signs of cooperation on the topic of fracking, adopting two amendments to a bill opponents worried was another way of banning the natural gas drilling method.

The amendments to the bill lower the number of years a company would need for liability insurance and clarifies language to ensure the bill’s requirements only apply to the holders of fracking permits.

Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said that despite the shorter time frame of 21 years to six years for liability insurance, the bill still retains two important aspects: The drilling companies would be held strictly liable for injuries to residents or their property, and in the case of legal action companies would have to disclose what chemicals they use for drilling and not use “trade secrets” as an excuse for failing to reveal information.

The disclosure is similar to the requirement announced by the Obama administration on Friday that companies drilling on federal land have to disclose the chemicals they use for hydraulic fracturing.

Zirkin worked on the changes with Sen. George Edwards, a western Maryland Republican, who had presented his own amendment – which failed Thursday – to strip the terms “ultra hazardous and abnormally dangerous” from the bill.

The proposed legislation, Zirkin said, means “there’s no such thing as a free ride for the industry.”

Zirkin said he hoped to pick up support next week when the bill is up for a full Senate vote.

The senator’s bill isn’t the only legislation proposed this session that looks to limit fracking in Maryland. While there is currently no fracking in the state, several delegates are hoping to place a moratorium on the drilling practice so that further study can be conducted on health risks.

On Friday a House committee voted in favor of the moratorium bill, though the legislation was amended from an eight-year pause to a three-year one.