SOUTH BURLINGTON — The Vermont Public Interest Research Group released a report Thursday on the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing in an effort to build a case against Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed pipeline expansion.
The report was released during a news conference outside Vermont Gas’ South Burlington offices Thursday, marking VPIRG’s latest move against the 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would pass through Addison County if approved by the Public Service Board.
The pipeline would be used to distribute natural gas to customers of Vermont Gas, which derives some of its supply from natural gas wells outside the state that use “fracking” techniques.
The Sept. 30 report (attached below), titled “Fracking by the Numbers,” was written by the Environment America Research & Policy Center, an environmental research group. The report quantifies the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”
Fracking is a procedure that forces a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into bedrock to crack open a vein and release its natural gas. Part of the opposition to the proposed pipeline centers on the environmental consequences of this process.
Paul Burns, executive director for VPIRG, said using natural gas in Vermont would only export the “environmental nightmare” outlined in the report to the communities hosting the fracking wells elsewhere.
“If fracking is too dirty and dangerous for us here in Vermont, then we must admit that it is not acceptable just because it’s taking place in Alberta, Pennsylvania or anyplace else,” Burns said.
Vermont banned the process of hydraulic fracturing within the state in 2012 when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 152, making the state the first in the nation to ban this process.
Burns said natural gas distribution in Vermont is inconsistent with the state’s environmental mission to be 90 percent dependent on clean and renewable energy sources by 2050.
He said Vermont Gas does not have the interest or capacity to stop sourcing its natural gas from fracked wells.
Steve Wark, director of communications for Vermont Gas, spoke after the news conference in an effort to defend the need to use natural gas as a bridge from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
Wark said VPIRG’s campaign against natural gas is taking a choice away from Vermonters who currently rely on dirtier sources of heating fuel, such as propane or oil.
“VPIRG seeks to deny Vermonters access to a cleaner and more affordable fuel,” Wark said. “We know that the hydraulic fracturing process of natural gas is actually cleaner than the alternatives that are out there.”
Wark said 75 percent of homeowners and businesses use oil or propane for heat, which are energy sources that also rely of the hydraulic fracturing process. The difference with natural gas is that it is cleaner to burn, he said.
He said communities that host the fracking wells are responsible for regulating the processes for obtaining the gas. He said Vermont Gas’ responsibility is to make sure it can sell products with a clear conscience.
The report presented by VPIRG states that fracking poses a “grave threat” to the environment, the public’s health and safety, infrastructure and local economies situated near fracking wells.
According to the report, fracking produced 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012. Since 2005, the process has used 250 billion gallons of water and 2 billion gallons of chemicals, damaged 360,000 acres of land, produced air pollution, and contributed to global warming, the report says.
The report analyzed the impact of more than 80,000 fracking wells across 17 states. Where possible, the report narrowed the data to only include wells using high-volume hydraulic fracturing involving more than 100,000 gallons of water or horizontal drilling.
The report urges states to ban the process of fracking, close loopholes for sites already operating and require that companies provide financial insurance for any damages incurred during the fracking process, such as the contamination of drinking water.