Md. AG looks to protect landowners from natural gas speculators

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 21, 2011, 12:32pm


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) -- Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced this week a campaign aimed at protecting landowners in western Maryland from what he calls "high-pressure sales tactics" by natural gas drilling speculators.

Speculators are seeking to obtain mineral rights in the Maryland portion of the Marcellus Shale, a large underground rock formation stretching from upstate New York to southwestern Virginia.

The region is rich in natural gas deposits -- estimated to contain 250 to 500 trillion cubic feet of the valuable energy resource.

Landowners whose properties sit above the Marcellus Shale should know their legal rights and potential risks from leasing their land to energy companies interested in drilling for natural gas using the process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," Gansler said Tuesday.

The process involves the injection of fluids containing a mixture of water, chemicals and other compounds into a well that has been drilled into the Marcellus Shale -- fluids that, at high pressure, can fracture rock formations in the shale and release natural gas, which can then be extracted.

"Fracking poses significant risks to the land and the groundwater beneath it," Gansler said in a statement. "Every landowner needs to be armed with accurate knowledge of these risks in order to safeguard his or her legal rights when being asked to lease mineral rights."

The Attorney General's Office has produced and distributed two documents designed to inform and educate landowners. They are available at

The educational campaign is the latest action taken by Gansler to protect Maryland's environment from the risks that accompany fracking.

In May, the attorney general sent a letter to Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its affiliates, notifying them of the state's intent to sue for violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.

On April 19, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids were released from a well owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45 percent of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Energy owns and operates numerous natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, including the Atgas 2H well in Leroy Township in Bradford County, Penn.

The Attorney General's Office also is providing legal assistance to Gov. Martin O'Malley's Advisory Commission created last month to study the environmental and economic impact of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation of western Maryland.

O'Malley announced his appointments to the advisory commission Tuesday.

The commission will be chaired by David Vanko, a geologist and current dean of The Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics at Towson University. Other members include: Sen. George Edwards; Delegate Heather Mizeur; Garrett County Commissioner James Raley; Allegany Commissioner William Valentine; Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison; Shawn Bender, division manager at the Beitzel Corporation and president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau; Steven M. Bunker, director of Conservation Programs, Maryland Office of the Nature Conservancy; John Fritts, president of the Savage River Watershed Association and director of development for the Federation of American Scientists; Jeffrey Kupfer, senior advisor, Chevron Government Affairs; Dominick E. Murray, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; Paul Roberts, a Garrett County resident and co-owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery; Nick Weber, chair of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited; and Harry Weiss, Esquire, partner at Ballard Spahr.

"I am mindful of the potential benefits that could come from Maryland's Marcellus Shale gas reserves," O'Malley said in a statement. "There are, however, many legitimate public health, safety, environmental, and natural resource issues concerning exploration and extraction of gas from the Marcellus Shale in Maryland.

"The commission will study the short-term, long-term, and cumulative effects of natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale, best practices and appropriate changes, if any, to the laws and regulations concerning oil and gas. We look forward to their conclusions and recommendations."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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