Senate panel considers ban on fracking

Bill McKibben testifies in favor of a ban on hydraulic fracturing in Vermont. Photo by Alan Panebaker
Bill McKibben testifies in favor of a ban on hydraulic fracturing in Vermont. Photo by Alan Panebaker

A bill that originally would have banned the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing passed by the Vermont House as a three-year moratorium.

Now the chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy says she wants to put the teeth back in the bill and switch it back once again to an all-out ban.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said with all the unknowns about the process for extracting natural gas and the environmental problems that can occur, a ban made more sense than a moratorium.

“If you put a moratorium in place, people are just waiting for the gates to open, and we don’t want that to happen,” she said.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting a pressurized mix of chemicals, sand and water into a well. The slurry essentially props up shale rock, which contains the resource, and it is released.

Critics of the practice in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming say it can lead to air and water pollution as well as industrialization of rural areas through things like increased truck traffic. Supporters say the process is safe, creates jobs and accounts for nearly half of the natural gas produced in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently studying potential groundwater contamination from the practice in Pavillion, Wyo.

Vermont would be the first state in the country to implement and all-out ban on the practice. The New Jersey legislature passed a law last year that would ban fracking, but Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill and a one-year moratorium was put in place instead.

Like New Jersey, the prospects for natural gas are speculative at this point in Vermont. Laurence Becker, the state geologist, said prospectors have drilled wells looking for gas, but the most recent one was in 1984, long before the technology for fracking took off.

Becker said the geology in northwest Vermont that could present opportunities for fracking since it is similar to that of Quebec where the government has leased property for natural gas.

The natural resources and energy committee heard a well of testimony from environmentalists this week, and Lyons presented at a forum Wednesday along with environmentalists opposed to the practice including author and Middlebury College professor Bill McKibben.

McKibben gave testimony in Lyons’ committee Thursday.

He called the practice a “false solution” to climate change. Supporters of natural gas emphasize its lower emissions than other fossil fuels. But McKibben said the release of methane and other carbon compounds from unburned gas to make it dirtier than coal as a fuel source.

He said the water quality issues are a primary concern.

“In essence, you drill a very deep hole, send a pipe bomb down it, and the fractures expede the flow of whatever’s down there,” he said. “It’s laced with a brew of chemicals: Some disclosed, some not. There are pretty remarkable threats to water quality.”

McKibben said a ban would take the issue off the table and prevent people from coming back in three years to ask for permission to start fracking.

While the testimony this week in the Senate committee weighed on the side of the no fracking community, it will hear from industry representatives next week.

Joe Choquette, who represents the American Petroleum Institute, said a ban would be unreasonable.

“Don’t take it off the table,” he said. “It could be tremendous economically.”

Choquette said API is not aware of any case of contamination linked directly to fracking, which uses a combination of sand, water and chemicals to prop up shale and release natural gas from wells. He said often contaminated water near drilling sites is naturally occurring.

He said the benefits of natural gas in Vermont could be good for the state’s farmers.

“It keeps farmers in farming because it adds value to their land,” he said. “They can continue to use the land, and it gives the farming community another economic resource.”

Frank Stewart, a former Department of Energy official and now the president of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, says inner city minority communities are particularly affected by particulate matter spewed by diesel-fueled city transportation vehicles, trucks and school buses. Natural gas fueled vehicles would help to lessen the impact of pollution on children in urban areas, he said.

Lyons said the committee will likely vote on the bill next week.

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Alan Panebaker

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  • Power has always exploited racial and class tensions to ram through otherwise unwanted projects and policies; it’s the Divide and Conquer strategy.

    The fracking industry has been very effective in the NY, NJ, and PA region with this strategy, framing fracking opponents as wealthy urbanite environmentalists, and repeating the mantra that hydro-fracking brings economic revitalization for empoverished rural regions.

    I find it disgusting and offensive that industry hack Frank Stewart is toting the benefits of fracking for inner city minority communities. Real climate and energy solutions do not require sacrificing the well-being of some communities on behalf of the well-being of others.

    As Vermont edges closer to a ban on natural gas fracking, we must stand together and ensure that the fossil fuel industry does not split us up along lines of race or class. Fracking is bad for people and the planet. Let’s set the bar high and get the ban passed, while building solidarity with communities elsewhere who are being impacted by fracking and other extreme energy development.

  • Fracking should be properly regulated and supervised. It would be wise for Vermont to have its own gas supply; keep our energy dollars in Vermont.
    Natural gas prices are about $2.50/million Btu. If used in 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbines, it would produce = 1,000,000/(3,413/0.60) = 176 kWh at a fuel cost of 1.4c/kWh. At $4.00, it would be 2.3/kWh, about the same fuel cost as coal.
    New England annual average grid prices are about 5.5c/kWh
    Unsubsidized NE ridge line wind energy is about 15c/kWh, subsidized about 9 to 10c/kWh.
    Unsubsidized NE PV solar energy about 25c to 30c/kWh, subsidized about 15 to 20c/kWh

  • McKibben is a trained journalist and he is an activist. He is not a climatologist or a power systems analyst. He repeats information from reports of the IPCC that has been discredited by Climategates 1 and 2.
    Natural gas used for energy generation is much cleaner than coal. It emits no particulates and SOx and the CO2/kWh is about one half to one third of that of coal.
    About 26% of all US energy is generated by natural gas, and that percentage is increasing each year, whereas coal’s percentage has been decreasing each year.
    The world average temperature has not increased since 2000, despite increases in CO2 ppMv. This was not in accordance with what the predicted temperature should have been, according to IPCC computer programs. As a result, the calculated results of these programs are no longer acceptable to many scientists.
    The IPCC, in their attempts to cover up the inadequacy of their programs, which were revealed by a whistleblower, lost credibility.
    During the past 9,000 years, there have been 14 eras with higher and lower temperature; the last few eras were the Roman Warm Period, the cold Dark Ages, the Medieval Warm Period, the cold Little Ice Age.
    During these periods, and all the prior periods, the CO2 ppMv variation was minimal.
    The Present Warm Period started well BEFORE there was an increase in CO2 ppMv.
    The below article contains a section on climate.

    • Doug Hoffer

      Climategate? Really?
      You need to do better than that. All of the investigations found nothing.

      For some perspective on the weight of scientific opinion, scroll down to Table 1.

      You said, “The world average temperature has not increased since 2000.”

      NASA doesn’t agree.

    • Lance Hagen

      Mr. Post, you are correct in that “world average temperature has not increased since 2000”. If you pull the data from the HadCRU database for the last 15 years (1997 to 2011), for a combination of land and marine temperatures and do a linear fit, the temperature rise is only 0.012 degrees C per decade. This is far less than predicted by the IPCC and Jim Hansen (Doug Hoffer’s reference site) of 0.2 to 0.3 degree C per decade.

      • Doug Hoffer

        Mr. Hagen

        The data I referenced (and linked to) was from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (NASA). If you look at the data presented, the change from the early 20th century is quite dramatic. And the change from 1950 is half a degree (a big deal).

        Your focus on the change since 2000 is a red herring. Single year data is not the most appropriate, which is why the GISS uses five-year averages. Single year figures are distorted by powerful short-term influences like El Nino.

        When you look at the five year rolling average (scroll down), you see quite clearly what is happening (and has been happening for 100 years.) There is simply no way to deny this.

        • Lance Hagen

          Mr. Hoffer

          What I showed was a linear fit for 15 years worth of global temperature data. The slope of that linear fit is the rate at which temperature is changing over that period of time (1997 to 2011). A moving average is only a smoothing function, which is good for ‘show and tell’, but not a very good analytical tool.

          Keep in mind, that people that developed the present ‘climate models’ cannot explain why the models failed to predict the temperature behavior over the past 10 years. These models had assumed that the ‘green house’ effect was such a dominate driving force, that it would overshadow any natural causes for temperature increases. So this is no ‘red herring’.

          • Doug Hoffer

            Very interesting. The choice of these two years really gives away the game. Both 1997 and 2011 are recognized as anomalies (El Nino and La Nina). The former raised surface temperatures and the latter lowered them. So using these two data points is exactly why serious scientists use moving averages. And it exposes those who don’t as trying to mislead people.

            You asserted that climate scientists believed that global warming “would overshadow any natural causes for temperature increases” and that the theories “cannot explain why the models failed to predict the temperature behavior over the past 10 years.”

            Not true. First, the data shows clearly that the historical trend continues unabated. And to my knowledge, no one ever suggested that global warming means the end of single year anomalies.

            The annual figures make it very plain how manipulative it is to use the two years selected. Pick a couple of other years and you get very different results.

            That’s why they use moving averages.

            It is impossible to ignore the enormity of what’s happended when you look at the data for the last century.

          • Lance Hagen

            Mr. Hoffer,

            Now I see your problem. You keep looking at the GISS temperature data. This is the domain of Jim Hansen and we all know he has lost his ‘scientific objectivity’ and has gone over to being an AGW ‘activists’.

            Over the last 15 years, the GISS temperature data is showing a rate of temperature increase that is 8.5 times larger than the HadCRUT data is showing. For the 15 years prior to the last 15 years (~1980 to 1995) the rate of temperature change for both GISS and HadCRUT was about equal.

            Keep in mind, that GISS, NOAA and HadCRUT all use the same ‘raw’ data. Each then process, weigh and modify the data as they see fit. And I suspect the GISS data under Hansen, would be processed to further his ‘cause’. Also satellite data from RSS (different source of data), for the lower troposphere, is showing a decrease in temperature over the last 15 years. So your statement about temperature changes “continues unabated” is only true for the followers of Jim Hansen.

  • Lester French

    Have seen the increased truck traffic on the secondary roads in northern PA along with the intense lights of the drilling rigs intruding on the rural settings at night. Signs for trailer parks and temporary housing for the workers brought in to support the fracking. Farm land is lost to the roads built to get to the rigs which are also located on farm land. Much more visual and environmental impact than wind towers on ridge lines. Not impressed with the arguments for the process. I would much rather see the development of small scale nuclear power plants to address our instate energy needs.

  • Looks like the pro-gas people got to reply first. As one who lives in northcentral PA, which is ground zero for Marcellus Shale fracking, here’s what you’d get, Vermonters:
    1-unbelieveable truck traffic, causing increase in commute times of 20-30%
    2-potholes along with the trucks, which will affect your tire alignment
    3-diesel fumes everywhere as de facto truck stops spring up at roadside rests, convenience stores, gas stations.
    4-leakage of underground chemicals into springs, creeks, ponds.
    5-heavy metal poisoning of animals and humans (I know 2 people locally who are dealing with barium poisoning and a 3rd who committed suicide over his resulting health issues.)
    5-an invasion of out-of-state people who will overwhelm your social services, drive up rents, increase jail population.
    6-a break-down of local culture
    7-an ugly clash between the “haves” (those who own land and get royalties and lease money) and “have-nots” that will not be pretty.

    I could go on. That’s been life here in Canton, Pennsylvania, for the past 4 years. Noise radiates from underground fracking as far as 3 miles away. (I lay in bed listening to it.) Dust is everywhere. Chemical-laden tunnels now reside underneath our town’s only water aquifer. Considering that natural fractures already exist in our underground strata, and considering that man-made fracking causes seams radiating as much as 2000 feet from the tunnel…there’s an uneasy feeling among many here that it’s only a matter of time before chemicals start leaking into our drinking water.

    You’ve been warned.

  • Lynne,
    Your comments are interesting. Please state the sources, such as URLs, of your information, so other people can learn more about this issue.

  • timothy k price

    In Vermont we have clean air, clean water, a clean working landscape, and a forested land which helps keep it that way. We are most fortunate and must be responsible in our actions.
    After what we have seen, after all that is being experienced where this violent process has been used, and what we now know, … it would be irresponsible for Vermonters to allow the use of fracking only to get a bit more gas as a short term energy supply. Good legislation is needed to protect the land, the water, our health, from this most damaging process; I encourage all efforts to ban the use of fracking in this state.

  • Jeremy Giels

    60 minutes had a program aired on this very issue and confirms what was stated by Lynne Whelden.
    Unregulated chemcals???? and take THEIR word it is “safe”??
    The Tobacco companies claimed smoking was “safe” (even HEALTHY) for years! Corporations are shielded by the law and those that run them are interested mainly to maximize the return for the “investors”. After the damage is done, they just “dissolve” and walk away and leave the mess for the public to fix.
    That is their “socialism”, privatize profits, and socialize the mistakes.

  • Coleman Dunnar

    Mr. Post – thanks for the numbers. It made me curious so I went web surfing looking for some actual energy prices. Found this great web site called iso-express. It shows actual real time energy prices for the New England grid. Today it’s showing energy prices in New England at 3.8 cents/kWh. What I would like to know what sort of Voodoo Economics are the so called experts in Vermont using to justify paying 15-25cents for the same commodity that is selling for 6 times less? It’s got to be a story that would make the Brothers Grimm proud.
    Go to and login as guest.

  • Walter Hildebrandt

    Yes there are NOW some real problems with fracting. The fracting NOW going on around the world may develop new know-how. This new know-how may make fracting definitely practical for Vermont. Keep the Vermont three year ban on fracting and reconsider the issue in three years. I believe there are some things that should be done NOW in Vermont to get environmentally safe and cost effective power. Considering the long term storage problem with atomic energy, I do not think atomic energy is NOW good for Vermont.

  • John Greenberg

    Coleman Dunbar wants to know “What I would like to know what sort of Voodoo Economics are the so called experts in Vermont using to justify paying 15-25cents for the same commodity that is selling for 6 times less?” but he’s apparently less curious about his own reiterated support for a highly subsidized nuclear plant which, after being depreciated for 40 years, sells the same commodity for 20% more than the market (4.5 cents). Perhaps it depends whose foot the shoe is on?

  • David Gross

    First of all let me be clear. I support a ban on the use of “facking” technology on all wells in Vermont, petroleum and water resource. A three year ban is a minimum length of time. I think a five year ban would be more responsible because the State of Vermont is totally unprepared to safely and efficiently deal with members of the petroleum industry.

    Now, why should one give my opinion any credence? Because I have a basic working knowledge of petroleum well design and drilling, and of the petroleum industry as a whole. I have 30 years of professional experience as a petroleum geologist; 10 years with Chevron USA, 17 years as a part-time consultant, and the past 3 years as a fulltime consultant. I will not list all the technical training schools I attended, but let me just say that I studied many well file reports, proposed many well projects, and supervised many well logging operations at the wellsite. I also have had dinner with senior oil company executives as well as shared the midnight meal with a table of roughnecks in a rig’s galley. I have heard all kinds of ancedotes and sweeping generalizations that may have some basis in fact, but do not necessarily represent accurately the issue of formation fracking as it stands today.

    Now, let me say again so that you don’t misunderstand my point, a five year ban on fracking would be the responsible thing for Vemont to do. Why? Because the state lacks the knowledge, the professionals, the regulations and permits, the inspectors, and the enforcement to ensure that the “petroleum industry” won’t run roughshod over the state. Trust the industry? Are you kidding me? Do we trust drivers to operate on on roads in any manner they choose, in any vehicles in any condition, at any speed, without laws and enforcement? If we did, what kind of horror stories do you think people in other states would tell about Vermont as they debate whether to allow people to drive in their state? A little over a month ago on a flight to attend an petroleum industry exposition in Houston, I was seated next to a “landman” who worked in the gas shale plays in Pennsylvania, New york, and West Virginia. A landman is a person who researches and helps to negotiate mineral rights on property. I could not resist asking him about all the stories of groundwater contamination I heard about. He said, and I quote, “The state is chasing their tails there.” I said this was suprising considering their long history of oil development and he said, “Yeah, you’d think that they would have a better handle on it, but they don’t.”

    The quick version of this essay is: Aside from unforeseen accidents, nothing will happen in Vermont regarding fracking operations unless Vermont allows it to happen. No well will be drilled in the wrong location, to the wrong depth, with the wrong chemicals, with the wrong design, with the wrong support facilities, with the wrong affect on local roads and communities unless we in Vermont neglect our duty to fully regulate this industry and to enforce these regulations. Vermont is nowhere near that point and will not be for years to come, even if the effort begins now. To allow fracking operations in our state today would be just as irresponsible as eliminating all traffic regulations and disbanding all law enforcement. No one driver would intentionally do any harm, but we all know that the results would be horrific.

  • Coleman Dunnar

    Mr. Greenberg – First – Haven’t you heard, it’s been in all the papers, that as of March 22, 2012 Vermont Utilities 4.5 cents contract with Yankee expired and now all of their output is being sold on the market at market price. The contract that the Vermont utilities had at 4.5 cents was below market for the majority of the life of the contract.

    Secondly I would like to thank you for answering by question regarding what “voodoo economics” are being used. FYI there is a big difference between a 20% subsidy, which really wasn’t the case as you claim and a 600% subsidy that Vermont ratepayers are on the hook for the next 20 years. Rum and chicken bones don’t make good policy.

  • John Greenberg

    Yes, Mr. Dunmar, I had heard that Vermont utilities no longer buy VY’s power. Indeed, I’ve been saying just that in print for over two years now to refute the claims of VY supporters about cheap power. It’s also true that for some of their life, the contracts were below market.

    However, the contracts under which Vermont’s utilities DID buy power were above market for the last several years, during which timeyou were defending VY nevertheless.

    I was merely pointing out that complaining about above market prices (for renewables) while at the same time supporting VY whose contracts are above market is inconsistent.

  • Tom Cooch

    You want your headline to be ” .. an all-out ban ..,” not “.. and all-out ban ..”

  • Doug Hoffer

    Mr. Hagen

    So you would have us believe that the GISS, NASA, and Columbia University have all been co-opted by Jim Hansen who – you argue – is intentionally manipulating the data. If that were true, I’m pretty sure someone would have noticed (that is, someone with credibility). Therefore, please provide evidence from a peer reviewed journal that exposes this dastardly scheme. Without that, it’s impossible to take you seriously.

    • Lance Hagen

      Here you go, Doug

      Hansen wrote this last year, in a paper which has since been removed from the GISS web site.

      “A likely explanation for discrepancy in identification of the warmest year is the fact that the HadCRUT analysis excludes much of the Arctic ….. (whereas GISS) estimates temperature anomalies throughout most of the Arctic.”

      No one outside of GISS seems to understand how they are estimating Arctic temperatures and whether these estimations are valid. But many people, including Jim Hansen, are noting that over the past decade, GISS has continued to show an increase in global temperatures, while HadCRUT temperatures have been flat.

      Also you do realize the GISS and NASA are one and the same

      • Doug Hoffer

        So I guess that means you don’t have any evidence that reputable scholars think Hansen is manipulating the data. The link you provided doesn’t work but is featured on a climate change denier website. I asked for something from a peer reviewed journal.

        And yes, I’m well aware that GISS is part of NASA. That’s part of what makes your allegation so odd. As I said, you would have us believe that GISS, NASA, and Columbia University are willing to let themselves be used by a zealot who is making things up. I’m sorry, that’s just not plausible.

  • jan heaton

    a great-gramma here. I’m reading what all you “kids” have to say- Native American Proverb–“We Borrow the Land From our children”-For millenia this land of the great spirit of truth has been pristine! Do No Harm is our by-word. No-one has mentioned the HAARP project and what effects it has.Ionosphere reactions, much less stratosphere damage. All this bal;oney is produced by the “STOCK MARKET” that was bought by Mr. Dupont in 1930- along with Insurance Companies.Cleveland Ohio- D-upont O-hio W-orks-(better “things” for better living”>Through CHEMISTRY- we were taught consistantly in schools!-) Freedom of the Press, has turned into Murdocks old ploy- “Amuse ’em or confuse ’em- along w/Karls Divide and conquer.-Truth is nowhere to be found, BUT we know sun makes us warm, Wind gives us power, Water is vital for life. When our Natural gas prices soared, I asked the gas man-Why??- He said-“Ohio gas is impure!”got to get it from new mexico! NOW- everbody wants it ‘cuz IT is so good1 MUST BE A MIRACLE- NON?
    -POEMS-(thank you burma-shave)Our natiral resources and most of our horses, have gone to the old knackers
    Natures destroyed- by- Chemicals void- of good things we can eat from our yard! Bob Roadales Press, for years did its best- To warn of the oncoming fall—but the “Oowers That Be” just wanted to see- how much money they’d get and that’s all!—Oil is some black smelly stuff- we pull from the ground ‘cuz we’re tuff–Can’t eat IT or drink IT, not even de-stink IT- >IT kills us to grab It- (sure- ’nuff!) a grey eagle- p.s. several earthquakes in youngstown from frakking- 8-inch gasoline line accross the stae ruptured because of quakes- 85 folks in the cold w/no meds.-food trailer park in Wellington Ohio- Frakkers are Shooting blind w/no geophysical knowledge- make THEM drink the water for 30 days from the site- Then I’ll agree. JCRCH