Vermont, the New England state known for maple syrup, picturesque mountains and historic farms, now claims the title as the first state in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Exempted from the national Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act, the booming fracking industry has often left states scrambling for their own regulatory devices, often against great political opposition and typically somewhat after the fact.
Taking precaution from nearby states like New York and Pennsylvania, states that have a deep and often volatile relationship with fracking given the rich natural gas deposits found in the Marcellus and Utica shale reserves, Vermont has decided to bypass a moratorium and instate a full-out ban on the practice. Some argue that Vermont could make this decision more easily when compared with other states given local geology; Vermont is not known for its oil and gas reserves, save a Utica shale deposit located in the northwest portion of the state. State geologist Larry Becker commented that “deposits could not have survived the heat and pressure in Vermont’s geologic history.”
So, is Vermont just lucky then? Depends on who you talk to. Legislators in Vermont like Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, argued that Vermonters might be losing out on a potential revenue source due to the ban, particularly singling out farmers in the state. Given the fact that very little, if any, significant oil and gas reserves exist in the state, it’s unclear how viable Scheuermann’s argument is when compared to the mounting negative side effects of fracking.
Joe Choquette, a lobbyist who represents the American Petroleum Institute in the Legislature echoed Scheuermann’s sentiment saying that he preferred Vermont gather more data on fracking before deciding on an outright ban. Choquette argued for the EPA, Department of Interior and DOE to complete any national studies before deciding on a ban, however, it’s only been in the past month that the EPA decided to regulate certain airborne particulates related to fracking and even then there’s much more oversight needed.
Others like Paul Burns, Executive Director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, stated that, “I’m very proud that Vermont will become the first state to ban fracking for natural gas. 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 went on to say that other states, such as New York, have started reaching out to Vermont-based organizations and legislators since the ban in order to learn best practices that could be applied to their state.
Fracking remains a contentious political and environmental issue, particularly among many rural communities in the United States. Serious health concerns, including cancer, skin rashes, headaches and undrinkable water are also correlated to the industry. While not limited to the United States, fracking has taken off in the past decade in the U.S. and the public is just now learning the serious ramifications of an unregulated business. States like Vermont that decide to follow the precautionary principle, a principle that states that the burden of proof falls on those promoting the action, is a policy that should be seriously considered by other states, especially in lieu of any significant overarching federal regulation.
Photo Credit: Doug Kerr from Albany, NY