Vermont Likely to Become the First State to Ban Hydraulic Fracturing

On Friday, the Vermont House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a ban, by a vote of 103-36, to become the first state to enact an outright prohibition on the use of hydraulic fracturing. Last year, New Jersey's legislature passed a similar fracking ban that was initially vetoed by Governor Chris Christie and a temporary, one-year prohibition was passed in its place. Vermont's Governor, Peter Shumlin, is widely expected to sign the legislation, which was heralded by environmentalists and opposed by industry groups that viewed it as reactionary and unnecessary since there are no active permits to use the fracking process in the state.

Supporters of the legislation acknowledged that Vermont is not currently considered to have significant amounts of natural gas or oil reserves, but some believe that small shale formations in the northwest corner of the state may have similar characteristics of the Utica shale plays that have been highly valued by industry. Further, many environmental groups see the ban as a way to shape and influence the current debate underway in neighboring New York that is still struggling on an administrative level to determine if it will approve permits to use fracking to access its substantial reserves in the Marcellus shale. 

Critics of the decision like the American Petroleum Institute (API) and America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) panned the legislation as shortsighted. API’s Senior Director of State Government Relations Rolf Hanson said, "The decision by the Vermont legislature to pass a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing follows an irresponsible path that ignores three major needs: jobs, government revenue and energy security.” 

In addition to the outright ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing, the conference report passed by the Vermont House also includes a study directing the state Agency of Natural Resources to determine if the fracking process is safe to use and to examine if the fracking process poses potential problems for groundwater contamination. The report must be completed by 2016, and it must also envision a potential regulatory structure that should be developed and put in place if the study determines that fracking does not cause undue threats to the state's water supply.