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Maryland Department of the Environment

Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initative Draft Final Report Recommends Permitting Natural Gas Development Under New Comprehensive Health and Environmental Safety Rules


MDE: Jay Apperson
(410) 537-3003

DNR:  Karis King



Science-based proposal recommends adoption of strongest, most comprehensive protection rules in the nation 

BALTIMORE, MD (November 25, 2014) – Reflecting extensive consultation with scientists, public health professionals, economists, industry experts, environmental and community advocates, and the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, today the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources presented a draft Final Report on Marcellus Shale drilling. The three-year-long study recommends that Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling be permitted provided that stringent comprehensive best practices are followed.

The draft Final Report – required by Governor Martin O’Malley’s Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative – concludes that the risks of Marcellus shale development can be managed to an acceptable level, similar to other industrial activities, provided that the State rigorously inspects sites and enforces compliance with applicable regulations and stands prepared to adjust policies and regulations as needed in the future. The report recommends best management practices that, taken as a whole, are at least as stringent, if not more stringent, than those required anywhere else in the nation.  

 “After three years of exhaustive study, we’ve compiled what many believe to be the gold standard for best management practices in the country,” said Governor O’Malley. “We’re committed to ensuring that Marylanders have access to the economic opportunities associated with fracking while also putting the most complete practices into place to ensure the highest level of protection for Maryland residents.”

“This report strikes the right balance, ensuring that Allegany and Garrett counties realize the economic benefits of fracking without sacrificing public health, the environment or the vibrant tourist economy of Western Maryland,” said MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers.  “With these highly protective standards, and working with local governments to maximize investment opportunities and review Comprehensive Gas Development Plans, Maryland is better positioned to manage this new frontier in energy development.”

The Marcellus Shale is a black shale, or rock formation, found throughout the northern Appalachian Basin, including Allegany and Garrett Counties in Maryland.

In 2011, Governor O’Malley signed an Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative to assist State policymakers and regulators in determining whether and how gas production from the Marcellus shale in Maryland can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources. The Order requires MDE and DNR, in consultation with an advisory commission made up of a broad array of stakeholders, to undertake the study and prepare three reports.

  • A presentation of findings and related recommendations regarding the desirability of legislation to establish revenue sources, such as a State-level severance tax, and the desirability of legislation to establish standards of liability for damages caused by gas exploration and production.  These findings and recommendations were issued in December 2011.
  • Recommendations for best practices for all aspects of natural gas exploration and production in the Marcellus Shale in Maryland. These recommendations were released as an interim final report in July 2014.
  • A final report with findings and recommendations relating to the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling, including possible contamination of groundwater, handling and disposal of wastewater, environmental impacts, impacts to forests and important habitats, greenhouse gas emissions and economic impact. 

As part of the study, additional reports were issued: a Best Practices Survey by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory; Air Monitoring and Emission Controls Studies by Leidos, Inc.; a Health Impacts Study by the University of Maryland’s Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health; an Economic Impact Analysis by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University; and a Draft Risk Assessment by MDE and DNR. The findings of these reports were considered in the development of the draft Final Report.

Advisory Commission members can comment on the draft Final Report through December 8. A final report and proposed regulations are expected to be submitted in December 2014.

Additional information about Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative and the full report can be found online at


Summary of draft Final Report’s Key Recommendations

The draft final report includes recommendations on managing risks and impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling including possible groundwater contamination, handling, recycling and disposal of wastewater, environmental and natural resources impacts, forests and habitat impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic impacts.  The report outlines standards for construction, sediment and erosion control, transportation, water withdrawal, storage and handling of chemicals, drilling, casing and cement, chemical disclosure, air emissions, waste handling and disposal, protection against light, noise, and invasive species, leak detection, site security and closure and reclamation. 

Comprehensive Gas Development Plan (CGDP).   A prospective applicant for a permit to drill a gas well must submit for approval a plan covering at least 5 years of activity, so that landscape level and cumulative adverse impacts might be avoided or mitigated. An approved CGDP is a prerequisite for filing an application for an individual well permit.

Location Restrictions and Setbacks. To protect people and the environment, the location of a well pad in certain areas is prohibited. Where a well pad or other infrastructure is allowed, setbacks from sensitive receptors are required, including a 2,000-foot setback from a private drinking water well.  No well pads will be allowed within 450 feet of streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, 100 year floodplains and other aquatic habitats. No surface development will be allowed to occur within 600 feet of special conservation areas, such as Irreplaceable Natural Areas and State designated Wildlands. No surface development will be allowed on public lands or within 1,000 feet of sensitive cave habitats.

Application for a Permit to Drill. Following approval of the CGDP, a person may apply for a permit to drill a well. The application must be consistent with the CGDP and include a plan for construction and operation that meets or exceeds the enumerated controls and standards. The application must include an environmental assessment and two years of monitoring in the vicinity of the well site to establish background conditions.

Drinking Water Protection.  Surface casing must be installed and cemented in the gas well to isolate the wellbore from the surrounding earth to a depth of at least 100 feet below the deepest fresh water aquifer.  In addition to the 2,000-foot setback from drinking water wells, drilling well pads cannot be developed within 1,000 feet of the edge of source water protection areas or the entire watersheds of the three drinking water reservoirs:  Broadford Lake, Piney Reservoir and Savage Reservoir.  

Air Pollution Controls.  Requirements include Reduced Emissions Completions (REC), limitations on flaring, use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, limitations on engine idling, and use of top-down Best Available Technology (BAT) to limit air emissions.  These protections are estimated to reduce methane emissions by 98 percent and emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 95 percent.  To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report recommends establishing a “zero methane” requirement that could be met through offsets or allowances under a program similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Noise Reduction.  Noise modeling must be included as part of the CGDP to comply with noise standards.  Noise reduction devices must be installed on all equipment at the drill site.

Reducing Transportation and Infrastructure Impacts. The number of truck trips to deliver material to the well pad and remove wastes and the impact of the remaining trips must be reduced by the following methods, if they are practicable, for the specific site: establish a centralized water storage facility at a location that minimizes the use of roads near homes or other occupied buildings for the truck transportation of water to the centralized water storage facility; upgrade the roads to be used so that damage to the roadways is minimized; transfer water from the centralized storage facility to the well pad using aboveground temporary hoses or pipes; establish a centralized facility with all the equipment necessary for preparing and pressurizing the fracturing fluid in a location, and with sound and air pollution controls that minimize impacts to people, and deliver the water, proppant and additives to the well pad using pipes; and if they are proven to be safe and effective and have less impact, perform fracturing using alternatives to high volume water-based fracturing fluid.  The CGDP will identify transportation routes for heavy truck traffic that minimize truck traffic on roads close to homes and schools.

Protecting Water Levels and Sensitive Streams.  Unless the operator can demonstration that it is impracticable, at least 90 percent of flowback and produced water must be recycled and reused on site.  Waste shipments will be tracked to confirm that the entire amount was delivered to a proper treatment or disposal facility. The CGDP must include a water appropriation plan and identify proposed locations and amounts of water withdrawals needed.  If feasible, one or more semi-permanent water supply access points with large capacity and storage options should be established to decrease risks related to water withdrawals on sensitive headwater streams and Use III and Tier II waters.  Additional modeling for water withdrawal impact assessment in sensitive locations, such as Use III and Tier II waters, will be required.  MDE and DNR will develop additional scientific guidance for monitoring and assessing potential ecological impacts to sensitive streams as a result of water withdrawals. Treatment of flowback or produced water at publicly owned treatment plants is prohibited.

Preventing Polluted Stormwater Discharges. The capacity of the zero-discharge drill pad must be enlarged to contain at least the volume of a 25 year, 24 hour storm event.

Accident Mitigation.  At least two vacuum trucks will be required to be on standby at the site during drilling, fracturing, and flowback so that any spills occurring during those stages, which could be of significant volume, could be promptly removed from the pad.  Operators shall, prior to commencement of drilling, develop and implement an emergency response plan, establish a way of informing local water companies promptly in the event of spills or releases, and work with the governing body of the local jurisdiction in which the well is located to verify that local responders have appropriate equipment and training to respond to an emergency at a well.  Requirements for chemical disclosure include:

  • Disclosure to MDE of all chemicals that the applicant expects to use on the site, not just chemicals classified as “hazardous chemicals” under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. Submission to MDE of a complete list (Complete List) of chemical names, CAS numbers, and concentrations of every chemical constituent of every commercial chemical product brought to the site. The information must be provided even if there is a claim of trade secrecy; in this case, the Department will retain the list, but the list will not be considered public information.
  • If a claim is made that the composition of a product is a trade secret, the permittee must also provide an alternative list (Alternative List), in any order, of the chemical constituents, including CAS numbers, without linking the constituent to a specific product.
  • If no claim of trade secret is made, the Complete List will be considered public information; if a claim is made, the Alternative List will be considered public information.
  • The operator must provide to the local emergency response agency: a) the Complete List or Alternative List of all chemical constituents and b) Safety Data Sheets for all products that contain one or more OSHA hazardous chemicals
  • A person claiming a trade secret must substantiate and attest to the claim when it is submitted to MDE, but MDE will not evaluate whether the claim is legitimate. MDE will keep the information confidential, but may share it with other State and federal agencies that agree to protect the confidentiality of the information. If a request is made for the trade secret information under the Maryland Public Information Act, a process exists for challenging the claim. MDE will require the entity claiming trade secret protection to defend against any challenge.
  • A person claiming trade secret must provide the supplier’s or service company’s contact information, including the name of the company, an authorized representative, and a telephone number answered 24/7 by a person with the ability and authority to provide the trade secret information in accordance with the regulations.
  • Information furnished under a claim of trade secret must be provided by the person claiming the trade secret to a health professional who states, orally or in writing, a need for the information to diagnose or treat a patient. The holder of the trade secret may request a confidentiality agreement from all health professionals to whom the information is disclosed as soon as circumstances permit, but disclosure may not be delayed in order to secure a confidentiality agreement.
  • The person claiming the trade secret must disclose the chemical identity and percent composition to any health professional, toxicologist or epidemiologist who is employed in the field of public health and signs a confidentiality agreement, including such persons employed at academic institutions who conduct public health research.


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