Vermont poised to be first state to outlaw fracking

Tue May 8, 2012 4:21pm EDT

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania January 9, 2012. REUTERS/Les Stone

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania January 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Les Stone

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(Reuters) - Vermont will be the first state to outlaw a controversial oil and gas drilling method known as fracking when Governor Peter Shumlin signs a bill banning the practice, a largely symbolic move given the state's apparent lack of energy reserves.

Hydraulic fracturing has helped companies tap potentially decades of gas supply and huge amounts of oil from previously inaccessible shale formations dotted across the United States in recent years.

Environmentalists say the practice, which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into underground wells, may contaminate groundwater and trigger earthquakes.

"Governor Shumlin does support the fracking ban," said Sue Allen, a spokeswoman for Vermont's Democratic governor. "He will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk."

Vermont's House and Senate approved the measure last week and the bill is undergoing a final review by legislative staffers before being sent to the governor, Allen said.

It is a largely token gesture, given that Vermont does not have any natural gas reserves to speak of, sitting just outside the boundaries of the vast Marcellus shale formation.

The Marcellus formation has been aggressively drilled in other states such as Pennsylvania. Vermont did not produce a drop of oil or natural gas between 1960 and 2009, and consumes the smallest amount of energy of all U.S. states, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The move is the latest in an effort by states to regulate or curtail fracking, which was exempted from many federal clean water regulations during the George W. Bush administration.

New York and Maryland both have moratoriums on the practice pending environmental review. In 2010, Wyoming became the first state to require energy companies to disclose what chemicals they use in the process, followed by Texas and Michigan.

EARTHQUAKE RISK

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has also sought to limit the dumping of millions of gallons of fracking wastewater containing anti-rusting and anti-bacterial chemicals in wells in his state. Kasich's proposal came after a series of earthquakes occurred near the city of Youngstown that were linked to a nearby 9,200-foot wastewater well.

This year, Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled legislature bucked the trend toward tighter regulation by passing a bill that prevents municipal officials from banning the practice in their towns.

Countries in Europe are divided on the practice, with France, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic halting shale gas exploration, while Poland, which has huge potential reserves, is moving ahead.

A trade group for the oil and gas industry, which lobbied against the Vermont bill, condemned the law.

"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 Rolf Hansen, director of state government relations for the American Petroleum Institute, in a statement.

"Robust regulations exist at the federal and state levels nationwide for natural gas development and environmental protection," Hanson said.

Environmental groups praised the move, saying strong state legislation is needed in the absence of effective oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Vermont's policy makes sense given the high risks of drilling and fracking and the lack of science showing how or whether this process can be conducted safely," said Dusty Horwitt, a senior counsel at the Environmental Working Group.

"The drilling industry has shrunk EPA's enforcement power down to the size of a matchbox," Horwitt said. "There's not a lot the EPA can do."

(Additional reporting by Ed McAllister; editing by Barbara Goldberg and Todd Eastham)

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Comments (2)
Jeepgirl wrote:
Fracking is usually done well below any water tables and the chemicals and water usually flow back out of the well when the well starts flowing. The depth of the fracking is well above any fault lines and could not cause damage to the plates that shift causing earthquakes.

People need to be more educated on fracking and how it works. All it does is form pathways for the release of the oil and gas to the well. It would be a major udertaking more than just plain drilling for oil and gas to cause enough upheaval to disturb the earth.

Since all fluids are captured returning to the surface in a safe manner approved by the government and is tightly regulated by both the oil & gas industry as well as the government, there is no risk even to the water table.

People need to be more informed regarding fracking and how really safe it is. Ignorance of a subject that promotes jobs, energy, business safety is totallly unreal for anyone at the leadership of government.

May 09, 2012 6:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Jeepgirl wrote:
The waste water injection well is replacing the removal of the oil and gas as the depth should be in the same range as the oil and gas. It should help stabilize the area if nothing else. Water injection is quite common in wells that have quit producing and will help other wells in the area produce. Get educated. Government needs to be educated so they can make logical decisions insteaad of listening to the greempeace type people that rarely know about the subject.

May 09, 2012 8:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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