Del. Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett County, made his support for drilling Marcellus shale to produce natural gas in his corner of the state quite clear on Tuesday morning.

Beitzel offered five unsuccessful amendments to a bill that would require a comprehensive study on the impact and risks of drilling the shale before permits could be issued. The Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources would publish the study,  including conclusions and recommendations for legislative changes, by August 2013.

Marcellus shale drilling

A rig drills a Marcellus shale well in Roulette, Pa. Photo by Laurie Barr

Beitzel is one of the few lawmakers in Annapolis from the mountainous area in far western Maryland where the drilling would take place, and wants it started sooner. Debate on the bill was delayed to give Beitzel time to research and plan amendments.

“The bottom line is Marcellus shale and natural gas extraction can help our state,” Beitzel said.

Marcellus shale deposits have been found in Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The other states have started drilling, but many have pulled back because of radioactivity and ground pollution produced by the process.

Beitzel said he understands the dangers, but he also knows that Maryland can coordinate the different agencies and activities involved to keep the drill site safe better than neighboring states.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, said that she understood Beitzel’s concerns, but the committee discussed them, too. The “fracking” process, which breaks rocks to release the natural gas, takes a lot of water, and often ends with many trees being cut down.

She shared reports of other states sending radioactive water from fracking through a normal wastewater treatment plant and releasing the water into rivers and the ocean. Salt is a byproduct of fracking, she said, but that was also found to be highly radioactive.

McIntosh said that she wants to balance all interests – both preserving the pristine wildlife of western Maryland, and allowing a new source of economic development in the economically depressed area.

“We do not believe we have all the answers we need before we move forward with drilling,” she said.

Beitzel was undeterred. He offered amendment after amendment — changing the study, the deadline for the study, the departments involved, the assessments on the land, and finally changing the membership of the study commission. McIntosh resisted all of them, and they were all shot down, with Beitzel’s support coming mostly from his Republican colleagues.

After all five of his amendments failed, Beitzel tried to special order the bill to later in the week so he could take more time to review a letter from the attorney general about the issue. Beitzel was once again overruled, and the House will take a final vote on the bill later this week.

—Megan Poinski