The Garrett County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to endorse the findings of the Garrett County Shale Gas Advisory Commission to further explore the impacts of drilling.
The commissioners also voted to forward the report to the incoming commissioners for a decision on how to best implement policies and procedures for Marcellus shale moving forward.
"There has been some selective follow-up discussion, but it is recognized that any definitive further action will logically await engagement of the new board of commissioners," states the report.
SGAC recommends that the county further explore the fiscal impacts; public safety; public health; property owners' safety; the county's character and appeal to tourists as well as second home/retirement home owners; and minimization of the impact of industrialization, according to the report.
The report includes a compilation of seven smaller reports that have been delivered over the year, three of which deal with comments and input on the state's safe shale drilling initiative studies, according to John Quilty, chairman of SGAC. The SDI studies were forwarded by the commissioners to both the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
"There are three reports that make specific recommendations to the county regarding exploratory or implementing actions," said Quilty. "There is a report on the potential willful, regulatory actions, which looks at things like permitting or other types of fees to give the county revenue for its own costs and outlays before there is any production of the intended severance tax."
The SGAC recommends that a pre-severance tax is implemented to cover the county's outlays during pre-production, according to the report.
Quilty stressed that severance tax is an upside of shale gas recovery and that the decrease in property values is the downside.
"If there ever is gas, getting it to the pipeline is important because the money comes with the severance tax. Yes, there will be royalties paid again once the gas is extracted," said Commissioner Jim Raley, who is a nonvoting member of the SGAC and member of the governor's Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission.
The SGAC recommended that the county have setbacks that are stricter than the state's Best Management Practices in regards to parks and trails, according to Quilty. The report suggests a land use ordinance that would preserve the quality of the recreational experience by increasing setbacks around parks and trails.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley said his administration will propose some of the nation's toughest regulations next month governing the extraction of natural gas, according to The Associated Press. The state's safeguards include a first-in-the-nation requirement that permit applicants produce a five-year Comprehensive Gas Development Plan covering all their anticipated wells. The SGAC's report noted that some of its members felt that it's important to keep track of the CGDP process and to push for a county role in formal approval as well as participation in plan development. Another state-proposed measure would prohibit well pads within 2,000 feet of private water wells to reduce the risk of methane contamination of drinking water.
"We have some of the brightest and best people in this state, who I think have the ability to do it and to do it right and to look at procedures that get away from the controversy (fracking)," said Raley. "I think we really have that ability here in Garrett County to look at a true portfolio of energy development and hats off to the efforts that have been made by this county in that regard," said Raley.
Gas drilling could create as many as 3,600 jobs in Garrett and Allegany counties in the next decade, according to a Towson University study commissioned by the state.
SGAC suggests that a broadened economic analysis include a balance sheet that would encompass the range of economic stakeholders; for example, severance tax revenues versus infrastructure costs.
Raley stressed that one of the concerns is there isn't a definitive idea of what the Marcellus shale infrastructure is like and what the gas capacity is.
"Coal was much easier to assess than gas is going to be to assess," said Raley.
The reports on transportaion, emergency preparedness and potential local regulatory actions contain recommendations that invite some form of follow-up action by the county, potentially with SGAC involvement, if the commission is extended, explained Quilty. Members of the SGAC would be interested in continuing to serve, according to Quilty.
"I care a lot about the county; this is a big time topic, it has big time implications. I hope that our input has provided some value and positive influence," said Quilty.
Marshall Stacy, member of the SGAC, stressed that if a health assesment is going to be done, someone should speak with emergency medical services personnel in Pennsylvania, where there is fracking.
"I think we just scratched the surface. I think we spent a lot of time trying to reinvent a wheel and if the committee goes on or another committee goes on I would hope that they would take advantage of what's happening right across our borders," said Stacy.