Maryland amendment that would have removed words “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous” describing fracing from bill holding companies liable for damages fails by 20-26 vote

Amendment To “Gut” Fracking Liability Bill Fails by Robert Lang, March 19, 2015, WBAL NewsRadio 1090 and Associated Press

A bill to hold fracking companies more responsible for damages they cause remained intact after senators defeated an amendment Thursday that would have removed words describing the natural gas extraction process as “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous.” 

The amendment failed by a 20-26 vote. It had been offered by Sen. George Edwards, a western Maryland Republican who served on former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s commission to study the potential for fracking in Maryland’s western Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties. …

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, said the bill is not about banning fracking but holding drilling companies liable if any damage is done to residents and their property.

“All strict liability means is if you can prove the company caused the contamination, the company is responsible,” said Zirkin. “Because guess who’s responsible if the company is not responsible for paying for it: We are, the taxpayers.” [Emphasis added]

Md. Senate kills effort to weaken proposed resistrictions on fracking by Kaustuv Basu, March 19, 2015, Herald Mail Media

ANNAPOLIS — A key amendment offered by Republican Sen. George Edwards to weaken a bill that could restrict the process of drilling for gas in Western Maryland was defeated on the Senate floor Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, seeks to hold energy companies responsible for any damages from hydraulic fracturing….

The Senate voted 26-20 against an amendment to strip the bill of the words “ultra-hazardous and abnormally dangerous” to describe the process. 

Zirkin’s bill would be akin to putting the cart before the horse, Edwards said. His bill would also not allow companies to use a legal defense “that the permittee was acting in compliance with industry standards,” according to an analysis of the bill by the state.

“All strict liability means is that if you can prove that the company caused the contamination, the company is responsible,” Zirkin said.

The bill hearing will continue Friday. [Emphasis added]

Senators hotly debate language in fracking bill, Bill would hold companies accountable for damages during fracking by March 18, 2015,

The debate over whether to allow fracking in Maryland lit up the state Senate chamber Wednesday.

Legislators from western Maryland oppose a bill that would hold fracking companies accountable for any damage done during the process, saying it would kill any chances of cashing in on natural gas deposits in the state.

Spirited debate came to an abrupt halt when the Senate decided to seek the state attorney general’s opinion on disputed language in the bill. 

A Senate committee struck strict liability language that fracking supporters argue would have completely deterred interest in drilling. They inserted a description of the process as an ultra-hazardous and abnormally-dangerous activity.

Sen. George Edwards, R-Western Maryland, said he asked the state attorney general’s office for a legal opinion and plans to get what he was told on the phone in writing. “Simply put, this is just another way of saying strict liability,” Edwards said.

“This ‘ultra-hazardous’ is a legal term of argument. What we’ve done in the bill is to leave it up to our courts to determine the parameters of liability based on the contamination of fracking,” said Baltimore County Democratic Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the bill’s sponsor.

Edwards wants to strike those words.

“This guts the bill and what we are trying to do is protect our citizens,” Zirkin said.

Edwards served on a state committee charged with coming up with recommending regulations that would help safeguard the practice.

“To pass something like this before you haven’t even ruled on the regulations, I believe, is putting the cart before the horse,” Edwards said.

“The better course of action was to define it in a way that would allow our courts to determine the parameters of strict liability or their liability standards,” Zirkin said. 

“The bill simply says if we do it and if somebody gets hurt or if our water is contaminated, then we are going to hold the right people responsible,” Zirkin said.

The attorney general’s office released its advisory late Wednesday afternoon, saying that describing the fracking process as an ultra-hazardous and abnormally dangerous activity is strict liability language.

PDF: Read the entire letter from the attorney general’s office

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