ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland environmental officials are proposing what they call the “most stringent and protective” fracking guidelines in the country.

That was the way Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles described the natural-gas drilling rules proposed Monday to The Washington Post ( ).

But a coalition called Don’t Frack Maryland said in a statement that the proposed rules are less stringent than those proposed by the previous administration, and urged the state legislature to permanently ban fracking.

Maryland currently prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release natural gas. A state moratorium on issuing fracking permits ends Oct. 1, 2017.

Fracking is allowed in many other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Opponents cite concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and earthquakes.

The proposed rules include faster permitting and relaxed requirements for buffers to protect areas near drilling sites than those proposed in 2014 by the administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. But the proposal also would ban wellheads in four watersheds, including nearly 41,000 acres around Deep Creek Lake, in far western Maryland, where fracking is most likely to occur.

The proposal also includes stricter guidelines for well casings, with four layers of steel casing and cement around fracking wells. Drillers also would have to disclose the chemicals they use, an idea the industry has fought, saying it would expose trade secrets.

Environmental groups and some lawmakers say they’ll push for a permanent ban, saying no safeguards can protect the public and the environment. Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said he plans to introduce legislation for a ban. He sponsored a similar bill in 2014.

“There is only one answer, and that is to ban fracking in the state,” Zirkin said. “If at some point in the future it is absolutely foolproof safe, then we can have another discussion. But as of 2016, multiple states have done this, and all of them have seen bad results.”

But supporters, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, argue the practice could bring in new revenue.

The Department of the Environment sent the proposed rules to a legislative committee too late to meet an Oct. 1 legislative deadline for finalizing regulations. Department officials say the delay was necessary to thoroughly consider other states’ rules and the concerns of citizens and stakeholders.

“It was time well spent for us to review what’s working, what are the key safeguards and how to improve upon those safeguards,” Grumbles said.

Information from: The Washington Post,