The Prince George’s County Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee unanimously passed a bill Feb. 17 that aims to ban hydraulic fracturing, a process of extracting underground natural gas deposits, from the county.

Four University of Maryland students, led by junior geographical sciences major Cole McCarren, attended the event at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

District 1 County Councilwoman Mary Lehman introduced the bill to the committee. Although she was unable to participate in the committee’s 5-0 vote because she is not a member, she said she will support the bill when it the full council votes on it in March.

“I’m really optimistic for full council support,” Lehman said.

Texas-based energy company Shore Exploration and Production Corp has already leased about 85,000 acres of the Taylorsville basin, a large natural gas deposit stretching from Virginia into Maryland, for hydraulic fracturing, McCarren said. He added that “it’s only natural that they would want to come and eventually set up shop in the rural parts of Maryland.”

The bill is similar to one passed in Montgomery County in October. Counties are taking it upon themselves to “zone out” hydraulic fracturing — which involves a mixture of sand, water and sometimes hundreds of chemicals being injected into the ground to break apart underground rocks and release natural gas — during the state’s two-year moratorium on the practice, which ends in October 2017, McCarren said.

Because issuing permits for an industry is done at the state level, the county cannot explicitly ban hydraulic fracturing. However, Lehman said, the County Council is able use its zoning powers to effectively prohibit it from the county and make it clear that “there is no home [in Prince George’s county] for fracking and its related activities anywhere in any zone: industrial, residential, commercial, anywhere.”

The moratorium is meant to give the state’s Department of the Environment time to learn about hydraulic fracturing from other states, such as Pennsylvania, and issue regulations to try and make it safer for Maryland, Lehman said.

J.T. Stanley, a senior individual studies major who testified at the committee hearing, said switching from other methods to fracturing might have a worse impact on the environment because the process releases methane, which is more effective than carbon emissions at trapping solar heat in the atmosphere.

“It is not a solution to global warming,” Stanley said. “If we really care about our future generation, it is the biggest problem facing us.”

For places where the hydraulic fracturing industry has already taken hold, the biggest issue is air and water contamination, Lehman said.

People who get their water through wells are particularly at risk because “if you’re injecting chemicals into the ground, a lot of times leaks happen and all sorts of bad things happen to the water supply,” McCarren said.

Such negative side effects include chronic nosebleeds, respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems, and an increased risk of cancer, he said.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an outspoken advocate against fracturing and one of the bill’s supporters, brought in experts and county residents to testify against fracturing at the committee hearing, according to the network’s website.

McCarren said his favorite part of the experience was seeing the responsiveness of the council members to the different testimonies.

The experience was valuable not only for the cause, but also because it proved that even a student’s voice can make a difference in politics, said Eric Marshall-Main, a Facilities Management work controller.

Although this is just the first step to fully banning hydraulic fracturing in the county, Lehman said, she is optimistic about the bill’s future.

“It’s very encouraging that people understand the importance of the issue and are in agreement that this is not the future we want for Prince George’s County,” Lehman said.