Marcellus Shale Q&A – The Lake Lowdown, Issue 4

Marcellus Shale Q&A

The Lake Lowdown, Issue 4

Announcing the release of the new, update Friends of Deep Creek Lake website: On this site we have posted the video of the recently held Forum on Marcellus Shale and Deep Creek Lake, the materials handed out at the forum, and updated information. The site covers a wide range of materials on the lake and the watershed. We encourage you to explore the site and to let us know what additional information and resources you would like us to see. Write to to let us know how to make this resource more useful to you.


Questions and Answers from Marcellus Shale and DCL Forum

There are many issues surrounding the extraction of Marcellus Shale in Garrett County.  The recent Forum on Marcellus Shale Forum provided answers to some questions which may be in the minds of lake property owners.

Are there Marcellus Shale mineral leases in the Deep Creek Lake watershed?

There are 18 leases, according to the DNR map, the most accurate map we have found. The mineral lease land records are neither complete nor 100% accurate. The Garrett County Board of Realtors has called for creation of a clearinghouse and greater accuracy in land recordation. The map shows the largest mineral lease parcels up Cherry Creek and along the Marsh Hill ridge from Lodestone to ASCI/ WISP.  There are a scattering of other smaller leases and only one south of Glendale Bridge.

How likely is it that any or all of these leases will be drilled?

There are a number of factors which influence gas companies’ decision to go forward with drilling.

1.     Dry gas. There are 3 kinds of Marcellus Shale gases—dry gas, wet gas and a gas-oil combination. The shale Garrett County shale is dry gas, which is deemed to be the least desirable by gas companies.

2.     Size of parcels. To make extraction profitable, gas companies prefer larger sites than most of those in the Deep Creek Lake watershed. However, up Cherry Creek and atop Marsh Hill there are DCL watershed mineral leases which abut those outside the watershed and, if assembled, would provide parcels of sufficient size.

3.     Currently there is a glut of natural gas on the market and prices have fallen sharply. Gas companies are even letting existing leases expire. Of course, other factors could quickly change this business calculation.

4.     Some report that gas companies are backing away from Maryland because the Governor’s moratorium and study and review process may well create a too highly regulated environment. This calculation can easily change.

What zoning protections are in place now for the lake?

Garrett County has the Deep Creek Lake Watershed Zoning Ordinance. Within this ordinance the section covering “drilling for, removal or underground storage, of natural gas, shall comply with the following minimum setbacks:

2,000 feet from the highwater – the 2,462 foot elevation line of Deep Creek Lake”. This buffer zone covers all lake front and almost all the lake access properties. There are some lake access/lake view parcels along the Marsh Hill which lie outside the buffer zone. 1,000 feet from property line of any lot not owned or leased to the entity responsible for the gas drilling, removal or storage.

Though the set back would provide some protection to properties along the Marsh Hill Ridge, it may be insufficient to mitigate industrial impacts such as noise, light pollution, and air quality.

A question at the forum raised the issue whether these zoning protections covered just the vertical bore hole of the drilling or the horizontal drilling as well. John Nelson, Director of Planning and Land Development, responded helpfully:

“The setback does not apply to the horizontal bore hole.  However, Maryland Department of Environment interprets the set-back that they impose (1,000 feet from any non-leased property) to include the distance from the horizontal bore hole.  I have copied Ed Larimore with MDE on this email to confirm this interpretation.” (Email from John Nelson, August 14, 2012).

While this sounds promising, it is one of many hundreds of small items which need final determination.

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Along Marsh Hill ridge there are lake-oriented properties which are outside the 2,000 buffer strip but in the watershed. Up Cherry Creek Run tributary there are 9 mineral leases in the watershed and at least another 9 abutting these outside the watershed.

Does the State have protections for the lake?

The State of Maryland, owns the lake—exactly the bottom of the lake and  the lake buffer strip, the State Park lands and is responsible for management of other parcels of land in the watershed. Principles for lake management are detailed in Maryland Code—protect the natural resource, the ecological balance and highest use as recreational resources.  It could be inferred that an active industrial use such a Marcellus Shale drilling anywhere in the watershed would not comply with these principles.

At this point, there has no public statement from the State as to whether they would consider exempting the whole Deep Creek Lake watershed from drilling.

What might be the impacts on the lake watershed if there were drilling?

The parcels which might be drilled in the lake watershed are abutting tributary streams. There are multiple leases along Cherry Creek and on Shingle Camp Run and Marsh Run which flow from Marsh Hill.  Positing the worst case scenario, if there were drilling and if there were an accident on these sites, run off could flow into these streams and into the lake.

There are other impacts which would be experienced in the watershed and on quality of life. These were not explored in depth in the Forum but may be explored in upcoming programs.

What is being done to protect the water quality in the lake?

DNR has developed a Marcellus Shale Water Quality Sampling program, for volunteers to monitor sites downstream from mineral leases. Friends of Deep Creek Lake has taken responsibility for monitoring sites in the lake watershed. Three volunteers (Charlie Lefebure, Jeff Nelson, and Bob Marko) are sampling 5 sites on a regular basis. Data collected will provide base-line data of existing conditions and could be used if there were an accident to determine impacts.

More effective and comprehensive sampling in the DCL watershed would be achieved by installation of fixed monitoring gauges on all tributary streams with mineral leases.

How can I protect my drinking water?

Prior to any drilling taking place, property owners with wells need to have their water sampled to establish base line data. There are two serious issues which need to be resolved: 1) it is unclear all the chemical compounds which need to be sampled; and 2) the cost of a comprehensive analysis could be well over $1,000.

What will be the impact on my real estate value?

Paul Durham, legislative consultant to the Garrett County Board of Realtors, reported we really do not know what the impact will be. He has not found a comparable place—a County heavily supported by a resort economy- which has had drilling. Without a model, Durham said that research is needed to project the costs, benefits and impacts on the DCL watershed properties. He does anticipate some reduction in lake property values if drilling were allowed in the County.

Real estate transactions are changing as awareness of possible Marcellus Shale extraction is spreading. Lake sellers need to declare whether they own the mineral rights to their land. Buyers are asking about impacts and risks to potential investment in the area.  Further, mortgage lenders and insurers are reviewing and changing their policies and underwriting. This is changing, evolving real estate market, anyone thinking of selling or buying needs to be well informed of the latest changes.

What’s the timeline?

The Governor enacted a moratorium and a timeline for study and reporting by the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Advisory Committee.

This Committee was charged with producing a report on best management practices by August, 2012. The due date for this report is now August, 2013. They are to have a final report on remaining issues by August, 2014. If the timeline is met, and decisions were made to go forward, it could start sometime after that date.

Resources for the Lake Lowdown reader:

Local Community Leaders from around the Lake meet

Friends of Deep Creek Lake met with DCL local community leaders on August 18. Attending leaders were honored for their volunteer efforts to run local homeowners associations and other neighborhood groups, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Friends of Deep Creek Lake.

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Front row, left to right:  Ken Fisher, Sandy Hill, Ellen Williams, Perry Levin, Pat Weiler. Back row: left to right: Roger Harrison, Richard Matlick, Brian Greenberg, Ralph Schmidt, Barbara Shap, Paul Weiler.