Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is set to sign into law a bill that will make Vermont the first state to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the environmentally destructive method of natural gas extraction which is believed to have causedearthquakes in the midwest and groundwater contamination in several areas of the US. A House Committee in the state voted to support the bill on Friday, and it is largely expected that Shumlin will support the measure.
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If signed, the law will be largely symbolic. While Vermont borders areas with significant natural gas reserves, geologists have calculated that the state itself is unlikely to have much by way of its own resources. Other northeastern states, namely New York and Maryland have imposed moratoriums on fracking while more studies are done into the environmental impact of the practice. But a waterless fracking alternative to the traditional method of injecting water and a highly guarded mixture of chemicals to extract natural gas could circumvent the moratorium in New York.
Other states have also attempted to gain some modicum of control over the powerful natural gas industry, with Wyoming, Texas and Michigan all imposing requirements that natural gas companies reveal what chemicals they use in the extraction process. While symbolic, a fracking ban from Vermont does represent a positive step in regulating the fracking industry. The EPA did rule to limit emissions from hydraulic fracturing endeavors last month, but those laws will not go into effect until 2015.
Speaking to Reuters, Dusty Horwitt, a senior counsel at the Environmental Working Group, explained the importance of individual State regulation, “The drilling industry has shrunk EPA’s enforcement power down to the size of a matchbox.” He added, “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.”