ANNAPOLIS – Compromises on a bill that would create a temporary moratorium on natural gas drilling in Western Maryland’s Marcellus Shale formation are being hammered out in a series of closed-door meetings.
Lawmakers and a variety of interested parties this week held several so-called “stakeholders meetings” that could produce a final compromise on the bill before the Senate takes it up for debate. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House last month.
The legislation would restrict drilling in Maryland’s slice of the Marcellus formation until 2013, when two state agencies would be required to complete a study that outlines the potential environmental impact associated with a controversial drilling method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Details of the closed-door discussions on the drilling moratorium are being held fairly closely at this point. Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, declined to comment Thursday on the meetings.
But Sen. George Edwards, a Republican from Garrett and an opponent of the proposed drilling moratorium, said at least two items are being negotiated at the meetings.
Under the legislation, energy companies would be required to pay $10 per acre of land leased in the Marcellus formation for two years. The money generated, which is estimated at about $ 1 million each year, would be used to pay for the study mandated by the legislation.
Edwards said the energy industry has agreed in the meetings to pay $10 per acre for one year only.
Edwards also is pushing for test drilling during the moratorium, so that experts can better gauge the potential impact that fracking could have on water wells in Western Maryland.
Another meeting was scheduled for today, but it was closed to the public and reporters.
“It’s not a public meeting,” Mizeur said Wednesday.
The stakeholders meetings are nothing new in Annapolis. The Associated Press’ Tom Lobianco reported in March on a series of “secret negotiations” that produced a compromise that allows wineries to ship bottles of their products to Marylanders.
–By Capital News Service’s David Saleh Rauf