Fracking, Ethics Law Changes, Discussed At Thurs. Meeting With Delegation

Lawmakers were introduced to Frederick County’s 2017 Legislative Considerations.


Frederick, Md (KM)  Maryland lawmakers are expected to be debating a bill to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state when the 2017 General Assembly convenes in January.  Frederick County’s Legislative Considerations contain a position statement supporting measures  to prohibit fracking.

During a meeting with the Delegation on Thursday, County Executive Jan Gardner said the fracking regulations by the Maryland Department of the Environment to regulate the practice may not be sufficient. “Because those regulations are not just specific to the Marcellus Shale, which is found in Allegheny and Garrett Counties, there are concerns across the state because there are other shale deposits,” she said.

Using a map, Gardner pointed out that Frederick County has two shale deposits: the Gettysburg Basin and the Culpepper Basin. She says the county’s zoning regulation would permit hydraulic fracturing in an area of Rocky Ridge, and the Eastalco property. Even though that area has not been assessed, Gardner said state regulations permitting fracking could supersede any local law which restricts on bans the practice.

Fracking is the process of drilling down deep into the ground, and using water and other chemicals to extract natural gas and bring it to the surface. Opponents say this practice has led to contamination of nearby well water, and earthquakes. But industry representatives say fracking is not to blame.

During the meeting, Delegate Barrie Ciliberti said a document from the Heritage Foundation  “pooh-poohed” the connection between water contamination, earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing. “They raise three or four major points that really torpedo the concept that your water’s going to be contaminated, A; and B, that it has any relationship at all with earthquakes. Earthquakes have been going around for quite a while, as far as I know,” he said.

Delegation Chair Kathy Afzali says getting a statewide ban on fracking enacted by the Legislature will be very difficult. “The western Maryland delegates and senators are very much in favor because they feel it will be an economic boost to their communities,” she said. “Those communities have economic challenges that we don’t have here in Frederick County.”

She also said she would be opposed to fracking in Frederick County. “However, I would be hesitant to enforce how I feel about Frederick County on a legislator that represents another county,” she said.

Delegate Afzali also talked about letting each county decide for itself if it wants fracking. But Delegate Carol Krimm said if hydraulic fracturing were allowed in other jurisdictions, it would impact Frederick County. “We could maybe draw the line around Frederick County and say no fracking here. But when you talk about the effects of fracking, that knows no county lines,” she said.

There’s also a bill in the Legislative Considerations which would extend the County’s Ethics laws to of the Planning Commission. Currently, it only covers the County Executive and the County Council. County Executive Gardner said the legislation would prohibit Planning Commission members who are running for office from taking campaign contributions while a rezoning case is under consideration. “The intent was to try to keep the influence of money out of land use decisions,” Gardner says.

But Delegate Afzali said this legislation will be difficult to sell other lawmakers in Annapolis. “They can be very tough and have some very direct questions that we’re going to need to answer,” she says. “So as much information as to why it’s necessary. And that’s what they’re going to ask: why it’s necessary.”

That’s the only bill in the 2017 Legislative Considerations. County Executive Gardner removed a measure that would exempt government agencies and social service agencies which are putting up families or individuals for emergency shelter for the night from the county’s hotel tax. She said the Tourism Council has an overnight incentive fund that could help. “John Fieseler did present this to the Tourism Council board last week. So they agreed to set aside about $5,000 a year for the Group Overnight Incentive Fund for this purpose,” she says. John Fieseler is the Executive Director of the Tourism Council.

The Delegation will be holding a public hearing on the Legislative Considerations on Saturday, December 3rd at 10:00 AM at Winchester Hall.

By Kevin McManus