Vermont Will Be First U.S. State to Ban Fracking
Fracking operation in North Dakota (Photo by Robert Johnson)
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MONTPELIER, Vermont, May 8, 2012 (ENS) - Vermont is about to become the first U.S. state to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas.
The Vermont House of Representatives voted 103-36 Friday to approve a conference committee report calling for the ban. The report reconciles differences with a bill banning the practice passed by the state Senate last week.
The measure now goes to the desk of Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it into law.
"We don't want to be shooting chemicals into our groundwater in pursuit of gas that does not exist," Governor Shumlin said Friday after the House vote.
In April, while unveiling a new geologic map of Vermont, Shumlin again expressed his opposition to fracking in Vermont.
No gas fracking is now taking place in Vermont.Geologists have said Vermont lacks the abundant natural gas underlying New York and Pennsylvania. But the same shale formation that has supported commercial fracking operations in Quebec extends south along Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Fracking extracts natural gas by injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into shale rock formations to fracture the rock and release the gas. Giant holding ponds or tanks are needed to store the chemically contaminated waste water that comes back up the hole after wells have been fractured.
The technology has been in use for decades, but only recently has the industry developed the capacity to drill horizontally within the rock formations.
Horizontal fracking requires massive amounts of water and potentially toxic chemicals. But industry secrecy about the chemicals injected into the shale has made it difficult for scientists and government agencies to get the facts on health and environmental impacts of fracking.
The Obama administration Friday issued a proposed rule that would require oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations on federal public and Indian lands - but only after fracturing operations have been completed.
Vermont State Senator Ginny Lyons, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said that until it is clearer what chemicals are used in fracking and the exact consequences for Vermont's groundwater, the practice should be banned.
"There have been over 1,000 instances of ... water contamination at sites in close proximity to fracking wells between 2008 and 2012 in the United States, so the contamination is a concern," Lyons told the "Times Argus" newspaper in April.
The current fracking-enabled natural gas boom across the United States has poisoned drinking water, polluted air and sickened people living near gas wells.
"Fracking has caused enormous problems with underground water contamination and aboveground waste disposal -- entire streams have been destroyed," said author and climate change activist, Bill McKibben, who is a scholar in residence in environmental studies at Vermont's Middlebury College.
"A ban on this process makes sense, if for no other reason than it will keep the oil industry from pumping lobbying dollars into the state," said McKibben.
In Washington, DC, The American Petroleum Institute called the Vermont legislature's move "irresponsible."
Rolf Hanson, API's senior director of state government relations, said that the decision by the Vermont legislature to issue a statewide ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing is "shortsighted and uninformed."
"The decision by the Vermont legislature to pass a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing follows an irresponsible path that ignores three major needs: jobs, government revenue and energy security," said Hanson.
"An uninformed ban on a proven technology used for over 60 years is short-sighted and irresponsible, particularly when Vermont benefits year-round from natural gas safely produced in neighboring states and provinces," said Hanson.
"The Vermont Legislature deserves tremendous praise for having the courage to stand up to all of the lobbying, the full page ads and the legal threats of the oil and gas industry," said Paul Burns, executive director of the nonprofit Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "This is a shot that will be heard, if not around the world then at least around the country."
"Vermonters were able to see through the smokescreen put out by the gas industry," said VPIRG organizer Leah Marsters. "They understand the threat that fracking poses to public health, as well as our air, land and water."
According to a minority staff report released last year by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, more than 650 commonly used fracking products contain chemicals that are "known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants."