Natural Gas Assessment

Report on best management practices for natural gas drilling

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg, Maryland, has submitted a report on recommendations for best practices for unconventional natural gas extraction, commonly referred to as ‘fracking’, to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) as part of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative established by Governor Martin O'Malley. The report will assist State and local policymakers and regulators in determining if and how development of the Marcellus Shale formation in western Maryland can occur while minimizing adverse impacts to the environment, natural resources, and public safety.

The Maryland Department of the Environment commissioned the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in February 2012 to research best management practices that could be applied to shale gas development in Maryland. A scientific team led by Dr. Keith Eshleman surveyed best management practices that have been adopted and proposed in other states. The team researched industry standards, reviewed governmental regulations and advisory commission reports, visited well drilling sites in adjacent states, and consulted with experts in relevant fields. Their goal was to identify methods and techniques that have been shown to protect air quality, drinking water supplies, water quality, and habitat, as well as best practices to address issues ranging from drilling and noise control to waste handling and blow-out prevention. 

The full report is available here.

Key recommendations include:

  • Develop regulations to support Comprehensive Drilling Plans to efficiently exploit the gas resource while minimizing the most significant negative impacts.
  • Select sites for well pads based on a pre-drilling environmental assessment and hazard mapping, and require two years of monitoring data prior to drilling including groundwater testing and inventories of wildlife. The overall goals of site selection are to protect public safety, avoid conflicts with existing land uses, and conserve biological diversity.
  • Establish state-of-the-art mitigation techniques—such as spacing multi-well pads in dense clusters to make maximum use of horizontal drilling technology and limiting total disturbance in key conservation watersheds—to reduce the impacts of gas development on Maryland's most valuable cultural, historical, recreational, and biological resources.
  • Require operators to adopt the American Petroleum Institute's "Recommended Practices" for maintaining well integrity and containing gas and other fluids within the well's infrastructure.
  • Require a 'closed-loop drilling system' on-site for handling drilling fluids, hydraulic fracturing chemicals, and wastewaters to provide the lowest risk of contaminant leakage and greatly reduce impacts on downstream aquatic ecosystems, such as brook trout streams.
  • Establish a goal of 100% recycling of wastewater—fracking requires millions of gallons of water per well and produces very large volumes of wastewater—and encourage development and use of technologies that can result in on-site treatment and recycling of wastewaters.

Additional information about shale gas development in Maryland is available at MDE's Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative webpage.