Vermont first state in nation to ban fracking for oil and gas

Fracking diagram
Fracking diagram

With a 103-36 vote in the House of Representatives, Vermont on Friday became the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing to extract oil or natural gas. The bill passed the Senate earlier this week.

The House debate was short. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, raised concerns that Vermont was banning the practice without knowing what natural gas resources it was giving up. “We have no idea if some farmers in Franklin County might be able to take advantage of an economic opportunity on their property,” she said in floor debate. Scheuermann urged the House to vote for a moratorium, which would sunset after a number of years.

David Deen, D-Westminster, argued that there was a small “semantic difference” between a ban and a moratorium, since no legislature can bind a future legislature. “If we put a ban in place at this time, by this time next year, that ban could either be a moratorium or lifted.”

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, raised different questions. If Vermont is the first state to pass a fracking ban, she wanted to know about the possibility of the state being sued to overturn the law. She asked about grounds for challenging the bill’s constitutionality, either under the Interstate Commerce Clause or the Supremacy Clause.

Jim McCullough, D-Williston, answered that the Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources had taken extensive testimony in recent days on those questions and been assured that there were no problems. McCullough read from a positive opinion from the Attorney General’s office, and he also said, “The matter comes down to whether you are treating in-state or out-of-state interests differently, and specifically the language treats in- and out-of-state interests the same. So we do not believe there is a commerce clause concern.”

For Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, being first in the nation was a point of pride. “I’m very proud that Vermont will become the first state to ban fracking for natural gas,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing for the protection of Vermont’s critical natural resources, our air, land, water, and to protect public health. And it also sends a very strong message to folks in many other states who are taking on the gas and oil industry.”

Burns said that by Friday afternoon, hours after the bill had passed, others in the country were looking to learn from Vermont. “I’ve already gotten a couple of calls from folks in New York who are very excited to see that we’ve taken this step today. They’re going to be trying to follow in our footsteps, and we think that would be very smart.”

While state geologist Larry Becker says oil deposits could not have survived the heat and pressure in Vermont’s geologic history, there’s reason to believe that natural gas may be sequestered in Utica shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface in the northwest part of the state.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts natural gas or oil from deep in the ground by underground explosions and injections of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into dense rock formations such as shale. Fracking has taken off in recent years, as the industry has developed the capacity to drill at depth horizontally for thousands of feet. As a result, natural gas supplies in the U.S. have boomed and the price is at a 10-year low, down 80 percent from a peak in June 2008.

Environmentalists argue that the market price for gas doesn’t tell the whole story. “Fracking has caused enormous problems with underground water contamination and aboveground waste disposal – entire streams have been destroyed,” said Ripton-based author and environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Congress has exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act. In Vermont, however, fracking might not be allowed under the state’s underground injection control rule, according to Chris Recchia, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

For Jordan Gonda, a legislative intern and lobbyist for Vermont Natural Resources Council, the passage of the bill represented a personal victory as well as a political victory. She comes from Pennsylvania, where she says “hydraulic fracturing has been going on for almost a decade now. It’s really been dividing up the communities there and has been a controversial energy practice.”

The American Petroleum Institute is represented in the Legislature by Joe Choquette, a lobbyist at Downs Rachlin Martin. Choquette wanted to see Vermont gather more information before deciding on fracking. “Let the EPA complete its studies. Let the EPA, the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy complete its work and allow time for the regulatory regime to be developed in New York and Quebec. Rather than that, they chose to outright ban it. I don’t think we’ll ever know whether we have a viable natural gas resource here or not.”

Choquette sees a huge difference between a ban and a moratorium that sunsets — he does not believe a ban will ever be rescinded. “I think the politics in this building are such that it’s terribly difficult for anyone who makes a reasoned argument in favor of an industrial process to win. I don’t think it will ever be overturned.”

Gonda characterizes the Legislature as having acted on the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy is suspected of causing harm to the public or to the environment, and there is no scientific consensus whether the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those promoting the action. “I’m proud and personally glad that the Legislature has decided to take the precautionary principle into consideration in making its decision.”

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Carl Etnier

About Carl

Carl Etnier hosts the talk radio shows Equal Time Radio on WDEV, Waterbury and Relocalizing Vermont on WGDR, Plainfield and WGDH, Hardwick. He writes a column on Transition Towns in Vermont Commons and blogs at the newspaper’s web site. Carl began regular newspaper writing and reporting with a column in the Sunday Times Argus and Rutland Herald in 2008. His media work started when he left a consulting career to raise awareness about the choices Vermont faces as world oil production reaches its limits.

Carl also works as a part of the Transition Town movement and serves on local food and energy-related committees, as well as the East Montpelier Select Board.

Carl considers himself a professional generalist, having continually worked both sides of the line between science and technology on one hand and social policy and sustainability on the other. That’s led to a B.Sc. in botany and crop ecology, an M.A. in liberal education, and Ph.D. studies in decision-making process that consider sustainability aspects of wastewater treatment. He’s worked in academia, at non-profits, for municipal government, and in the private sector as a water and wastewater consultant. He is sometimes mistaken for an engineer, but really he has just hung out with engineers a lot.

After growing up in Wisconsin, Carl lived in six states and three countries (Japan, Sweden, and Norway) before settling in Vermont starting in 1998. He speaks Swedish and Norwegian, plus broken Spanish.

Carl lives in East Montpelier with Céilí the fast-running dog, Mizu the water-loving cat, and five hens a-laying. He’s happy to live in easy bicycling distance of events in Montpelier, from which the 700-foot climb home gives plenty of time to mull over what just happened.

Email: [email protected]

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  • Question , Does this mean that fracking will be illegal in the search for artisian water wells too? Or is this only for the promotion of the great green energy policy ? Hey I know lets put up more wind towers in the northeast kingdom ,after all , they won’t be seen from Montpelier!

  • Steven Farnham

    I think banning fracking in Vermont is about as courageous as banning fur coats in July (there isn’t much need for it), but I’m glad it’s done just the same. You never know what some idiot with too much money and time on his hands might try.

    Speaking of which, if “…there’s reason to believe that natural gas may be sequestered in Utica shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface in the northwest part of the state,” has anyone considered what mischief Gaz-Metro will be up to north of the border?

    Just a thought.

  • David Dempsey

    The legislature is pushing hard to adjourn by the end of the weekend, one week ahead of schedule. Amidst the chaos, they somehow have time to work on and pass a bill banning fracking for what Paul Burns says is a “point of pride” at being the first state in the nation to do so. What a relief, I was losing sleep over that issue. The law is most likely unconstitutional, and bans something that doesn’t exist in Vermont and most likely won’t in my lieftime. However, there was no time to do anything for the 80% of Vermonters who will be impacted by the CVPS/GMP merger, something that Vermonters actually care about . That amendment got dropped like a bad habit before the conference committee had their second cup of coffee.

  • Ben Goldberg

    I’m very proud of, and stand 100% behind my birth state’s decision to do this. The total unwillingness of natural gas companies to disclose what chemicals they inject under our feet is an enormous red flag. The fact that they can choose not to tell anybody in order to protect a ‘trade secret’ is completely insane in my opinion, and promotes a dangerous paradigm where the safety and concern for the health of the common man is secondary to a large company’s profit.

  • Gary Hewitt

    I do not live in Vermont but the ban on fracking in your state I hope leads to the rest of the country doing so as well! There have been many problems with the practice of fracking, in other states, such as; PA, OH, and MO to name a few where people cannot drink water from their wells! However, they can set the water on fire as it is running out of there faucets. There has also been medical problem traced back to the chemicals used in the fracking process.

  • Congratulations Vermont!

    Now Michigan voters can take part in a ballot initiative to get a frack ban in the state constitution. Some members of Ban Michigan Fracking (including myself) formed Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a ballot question committee to amend the state constitution. We need an enormous amount of signatures by July 9. Please help us spread the word. We have the power here, let’s get it on the ballot in November.

    Please visit our website at http://www.LetsBanFracking.org
    We are also on Facebook.

    LuAnne Kozma
    Campaign Director
    Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

  • Alex Barnham

    It seems that the more money generated by an activity, the more difficult it is to stop it. For example, fracking increases gas production. It also secretly destroys the quality of deep wells with secret drilling fluids that someone might secrete. How can you test for something that is secret? Thus bottled water sales increase because now everyone is afraid to drink the artesian well water. Hospital and doctor visits increase. Pharmaceutical sales increase. Finally mortician services increase. This is all short-term. Then a great decrease in population followed by decrease in property values due to poisoned water. Poisoned water pushes local Vermonters to find pristine land and in comes the hordes from across the pond who don’t have a clue or even care. Bye bye Vermont as we know it. Secret drilling fluids coupled with exemptions from clean water regulations leaves me searching for clues to deeper understanding. Education is not just for children.

  • I also am extremely proud of my birth state for passage of this bill to ban fracking. I’m 100% for the band. I find it truly appalling that some people are so driven by greed and the almighty dollar that they would allow a practice that could destroy clean water. We can’t survive without clean water. I too worry about our neighbor to the north. Whether it’s fracking or oil pipelines, what happens on top or deep beneath the earth can effect such a wide area. We need to stay on top of this.

  • Margaret Motheral

    This needs to be taken to criminal level. A crime against humanity. Industrial terrorism. It a human rights issue and public health that kills and kills future generations. This industry is brutal and we need to call it what it is – a crime that kills and some shark lawyers back by the people need to prosecute and put in prison. It is environmental terrorism that kills. If I made my husband or child sick or dead with poison I would be tried for a crime. Just because it’s a “business” does not make their murder less criminal. This is like serial mass murder of generations. Genocide. Get real.

  • Jodi Messenich

    This is the most powerful statement for the planet and it’s inhabitants one could make! Congratulations on your bold stance. I hope all states follow suit in protections for the future! Life can not be about today’s needs without regard for the future!

  • jim terwiliger

    Lol at big oil wanting to wait for EPA actions.

    Obviously these guys are either huge Hypocrites, or they have been successful in corrupting the EPA

    (its actually both)

  • Sandra Gray

    CONGRATULAIONS VERMONT!!! It’s about time people stood up to these oil and gas companies. Lighting fires as water comes out of our tap and not disclosing the chemicals used are a huge red flag. THANK YOU VERMONT for taking a stand.

  • Jason Smith

    “-entire streams have been destroyed” Where? Why is that statement reported without it being varifed?

  • Judith Ann Johnson

    What logic from the gas and oil lobby. Wait until we know whether there’s any gas before we decide whether to ban this practice? If there is none, it’s still a good statement. It’s if there IS gas to be had that the policy is needed to protect the state’s environment.

    Congratulations to Vermont!

  • Sharon Burr

    Praise Vermont! I want the same thing to happen here in New York. ban, ban, ban….. Isn’t it odd that the majority of the people that I talk to who are in favor of fracking tend to profit from it????? Reality check here for the greedy ones…. We have too much to lose in our beautiful state to allow this to happen….especially the Finger Lakes region…..I’m in favor of a 100% ban!

  • Tammy Reiss

    After loosing a year of my life to finnally have a moritorium in my town I still pray for a state wide ban in NY. Let’s keep America a proud nation of people. We can not let greed of a few from large corporations run our proud nation into the ground. Just visit Pennsylvania to see what I am talking about.
    Gov. Cuomo please follow Vermonts example.

  • Mark Przywara

    I just wish that our politicians – regardless of what state they serve – would take more time to get the facts associated with issues on which they are voting instead of reacting to specific public pressure that tend to be less than educated about the FACTS associated with the issue. Reactive politics without intense scrutiny will only result in more mistakes and subsequent finger pointing in the future. All of which will hurt both the individual citizen as well as the country in general.

  • I oppose fracking but also know that it’s a “scraping the bottom of the barrel” approach to energy extraction. In other words, the price for not fracking is the oil and gas will deplete faster. That’s a price I’m willing to pay. We are past Peaked Oil on Earth (2008). Peak Oil in the US was 1970. Peak Natural Gas in the US was 1973, although shale gas has been a temporary boost back to those previous levels of natural gas.

    In the discussion about the toxic evils of fracking there’s little attention paid to the fact that the industry is grossly exaggerating how much shale gas can be extracted through fracking. It seems like a lot of gas but fracked wells deplete much faster than conventional natural gas wells. It would be wise for Vermont to consider how home heating is going to work as the fossil fuels go away.

    Solar and wind are great (I’ve used solar electricity for two decades) but they’re not going to replace what we are currently using. And we should have made the switch during the Carter administration — or better yet, when President Kennedy tried to turn off the Cold War and nuclear arms race (1963).

    A final point: does Vermont even have shale gas that could be extracted through fracking? Democrats are often good at environmental protection that gives up nothing — wilderness areas that are mostly high elevation “snow and ice” (in western National Forests), the State of Oregon’s banning of offshore oil on its coast (there’s no oil there to drill or protest about), Obama’s plan to open offshore oil drilling in places that don’t have oil (Atlantic coast).

    Energy literacy is a distant concept in the society that uses the most energy.

  • Tammy Bailey

    Congratulations! I am from Canada, we are concerned here as well, it seems our Government at the moment is making it that much easier for exploration and development, a new law has been passed that speeds up environmental studies,two years maximum for impact studies… As far as fracking goes we know the damage it does it should be banned outright!

  • Hank Hankerson

    So glad I moved away from VT. So many people eager to back something they know nothing about. Many want their cars, but don’t want the oil to make them run. Many want electricity, but they don’t want a coal plant, Yankee Nuclear, or even wind energy on top and on the hill sides of the Green Mountains where the wind is. Everything has to be below the treeline…where there’s not as much wind!

    Many think electric cars are the answer, but don’t understand that it takes oil to make the tires, many of the plastics, and that the electricity needed for them comes from all the types of electricity production you’re against. I could go on forever. Hippocrites. Get off the computer and go back to protesting stupidity at the North end of Church St.

  • Bill Gardyne

    So my brief internet research doesn’t produce any widely accepted and or peer-reviewed scientific study that definately links fracking to the myriad of pollution allegations most of the posters here seem to attribute to it. Am I missing something or you all just so much smarter than everyone else??

    • Mike Curtis

      From the 2011 US House of Representatives report on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing “more than 650 of these products contain chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act”.

      Additionally, 279 products are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret” Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

      How can they do “peer-reviewed scientific study” on these chemicals if they won’t tell us what they are?? The can’t. And until that happens, we shouldn’t allow it to be pumped into the ground and letting these chemicals into our ground water.


  • William Kennedy

    IF the climate can survive further CO2 input from [vast] methane-ethane extraction, THEN IF you wait for the supply to dwindle until the price consistently rises THEN drilling makes monetary sense. Industry selling you into a glut market will cheat and poison you that much more. Don’t be an early adopter but assure safety by others’ example. At least let PA be the canary in the coal mine. [W. NY resident]

  • Thank you, Vermont, for staying true towards a progressive attitude. I wish I had not had to move away. Little personal victory for me, stuck in TX (recenly rated 4th most polluted waters in the U.S.). Help. Get me back to Shrewsbury.

  • Hey, Nice work! This is very much helpful for my research and i hope to run through more of your posts someday! How i wish i can see you in person so i can get to know you more. thank you.