While thousands of natural gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in recent years, not one well has been drilled in Maryland in a decade and a half. This is despite the fact that the western part of Maryland sits atop the same formation of gas-rich shale that has attracted a drilling gold rush to the north and south.
This lack of drilling in Maryland could soon change. In a big way.
More than a year ago, two companies -– Samson Resources of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Chief Oil & Gas of Dallas -– applied to start hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Maryland’s part of the Marcellus Shale formation, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. In this technique, also called “fracking,” drillers inject millions of gallons of water mixed with hydrochloric acid and other chemicals at high pressure into rock formations, to crack the shale and release natural gas.
Expecting "fracking" to start soon in Maryland, more than 500 property owners in Garrett County have already signed leases to allow companies to extract natural gas from 124,000 acres of land, more than a quarter of the county, according to a county map (shown at right). These land owners are eager to get the drilling started, because it could mean millions of dollars in royalty checks for them, and millions of dollars in tax revenues for the county, which will impose a 5 percent tax on the gas revenues.
But the Maryland Department of the Environment is taking its time and being careful in reviewing these drilling applications. The state agency is consulting with regulators and experts in Pennsylvania, and trying to make sure the drilling permits are protective of the environment, according to Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the state agency.