* Fracking has been linked to groundwater pollution
* Suspected of raising the risk of earthquakes
* Method was exempted from clean water rules under Bush
By Jason McLure
May 8 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
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
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.
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
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
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)