As Maryland’s moratorium on fracking nears expiration, state senators introduced legislation that would ban the practice outright.

The debate over that fracking ban “is expected to become one of the most heavily contested environmental battles of the 2017 General Assembly session,” reports the Baltimore Sun.

Allowing energy extraction would be an economic boon, especially to Western Maryland. Though the state’s overall unemployment rate is just 4.2 percent, counties like Allegany and Garrett have suffered an average unemployment rate of 6.7 percent over the past two years.

A 2014 Towson University study estimated that allowing fracking would create more than 3,000 jobs in Maryland.

And, as we’ve seen repeatedly, Maryland Democrats’ embrace of radical environmental policies has pitted them against some of their union constituents.

In the Capital Gazette, David Stokes, the business manager for Laborers International Union of North America Local 710, made the case for fracking in Maryland:

Some of my fellow Democrats are pushing to ban innovative efforts to recover natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. This unwise pandering to environmentalist special interests in our party will block a new industry that has created tens of thousands of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs in Pennsylvania — including for thousands of union members like my brothers and sisters in the Laborers International Union of North America.

… [But many “rural and exurban voters”] do not believe our party listens to their concerns or cares about their communities. Watching legislators try to take away their ability to use their land, or find badly needed jobs to support their families, will only increase their sense of alienation from the party that historically represented the interests of working people.

Far Western Maryland, where our state's natural gas reserves are concentrated, is isolated from the booming metropolitan areas that characterize much of our state. Unemployment is higher, opportunities are fewer, and the decline of manufacturing and mining has left families struggling to make it on retail and service wages that are far below what they were once able to earn. Safely recovering the natural gas under their land is one of their best opportunities for a middle-class life.

The fight over fracking in Maryland will be one to watch, and not just for the environment or economy. It’s a good test of whether Democrats have absorbed the political lessons of 2016.