Vermont Considers Fracking Moratorium as Concerns About Groundwater Contamination and Earthquakes Grow

Put a fracking operation here? Vermont legislators say "no."

by Zachary Rybarczyk

With concerns mounting that injection wells from natural gas fracking are causing earthquakes and contaminating groundwater, Vermonters appear ready to stop the practice in the state before it starts.

On the heels of a 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio this past New Year’s Eve, and a growing number of reports from around the U.S. that fracking operations have fouled water supplies, the Vermont legislature is considering either a moratorium or complete ban of fracking within its borders.

Last week, the House Water Resources committee approved a bill that would put a three-year moratorium on fracking in Vermont.

Although no one is sure if it’s worth drilling in the area, a number of politicians in Vermont say they support a moratorium or a ban in order to preserve the environmental integrity of the state.

“This is kind of saying, ‘Don’t bother. Close the door on the issue,'” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, sponsor of a bill the House Fish & Wildlife Committee is preparing to vote on this week. “It’s about protecting our most precious resource — our groundwater.”

If Vermont goes further and actually bans fracking, it would be the first state to do so. Neighboring New York State, which sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation, approved a moratorium in 2010 in order to assess the environmental impact of drilling.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, pumps water, sand and a range of chemicals underneath shale formations to force out trapped gas or oil. Last year, France became the first country to ban the practice entirely. Many environmental groups and American citizens with operations in their communities have questioned the safety of the extraction method.

Jake Brown of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, an environmental group in favor of the state bill being voted on next week, explained that a three year ban or moratorium is the best option for protecting public health.  “The industry should be the one to prove this is safe,” he noted.

Measurable seismic activity around fracking injection wells has also added to concerns. From Oklahoma to the United Kingdom, earthquakes ranging from 1.0 to 4.0 on the Richter scale have been recorded near fracking sites. While these small earthquakes have not caused structural damage (only annoyance to people living around the wells), Arthur McGarr, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has warned that the risk of anthropogenically inducing large, deadly quakes cannot be ruled out.

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12 Responses to Vermont Considers Fracking Moratorium as Concerns About Groundwater Contamination and Earthquakes Grow

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Fears of further landslides following Southern Highlands disaster

    There are concerns about the risk of further landslides in the Hides area of Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands following last week’s disaster in Tumbi.

    The number of people confirmed by international agencies such as Red Cross and Oxfam to have been buried in Tuesday’s massive landslide has reached 25 and is expected to rise.

    Many locals blame Exxon Mobil’s liquefied natural gas project for the landslide, saying explosives used at the Tumbi quarry owned by the project unsettled the earth.

    John Tamita of the regional NGO, Hela Community care, says a number of displaced people need to be resettled.

    He says the risk of further destruction remains high while the terrain is unstable and the rainfall is high.

    “It’s very dangerous, very dangerous, and that’s why people are making… with the advice from the company, police are making awareness, telling them to move out of the place. But then they cannot move to, because where would they go to? This question has not yet been answered. And how would they know that there’s more flashes that will take place?”

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Exxon Gets Export Bank Funding After Paying for Trip

    Exxon Mobil Corp. and its partners in a $15 billion Papua New Guinea gas project last year paid the travel expenses for employees of the U.S. Export-Import Bank as it considered whether to help fund the venture.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Conservation International teams up with Exxon-Mobil to greenwash LNG project

    US financed Exxon-Mobil project draws violence

    In December of 2009, the U.S. Ex Im Bank gave a record $3 Billion dollars in financing to ExxonMobil for a controversial Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project in Papua New Guinea. NGOs and Civil Society groups in Papua New Guinea and abroad warned Ex Im Bank that this project’s pipeline would slice through tribal lands and stir conflicts among local people. And, as predicted, that’s exactly what happened.

  4. Thanks to a convenient exemption from the Clean Water Act known as (not surprisingly), “the Haliburton Exemption,” fracking activities are not regulated. It is more than a coincidence that communities in the vicinity of fracking activities are suffering from devastating impacts to air and water quality and earthquakes. Fracking presents a perfect case study for what happens when industry is allowed to proceed without regulation, a recipe for environmental disaster. Bravo to Vermont for their continued proactive stance against corporate psychopaths.

  5. Raindog says:

    This bill is nonsensical on many levels.

    There is no shale gas potential in Vermont. There is no need for it. It is the ultimate waste of VT taxpayer dollars to spend a minute of time on it. It is akin to a flag burning amendment.

    This line is also funny and sad:

    “The industry should be the one to prove this is safe,” he noted.

    This is not possible. Think about it. It is not possible to prove anything is safe. For instance, take this absurd statement: “Solar power can cause brain cancer.” Prove to me that this is not correct. You can’t do it. (for the literal-minded readers out there I do not think solar power causes brain cancer). The onus is on someone to prove that it does cause brain cancer or at least come up with a compelling data set.

    Or better yet, how about a real example:

    Prove that wind turbines don’t cause mental health problems.

    What does “safe” even mean? Does “safe” mean that nothing bad will ever happen? I have a feeling based on the way this has gone so far that this is what some people expect. If so we aren’t going to do anything at all. Wind and solar have downsides and are not 100% safe. People die putting up solar panels and wind turbines. Both these energy sources kill wildlife.

  6. Lionel A says:

    The sad thing is that this internecine conflict was probably in the petro-gas playbook, with the locals destroying their own societies then the land become default – unless the UN intercedes. Fat chance.

  7. Anne van der Bom says:

    For the sake of all of us, I hope you’re not working in the pharmaceutical industry.

  8. Raindog says:


    Do you think that they prove that drugs are safe before they put them on the market? Because that is not what they do. You know how they always list side effects of drugs? That means that they are not completely “safe.” No drug is safe. Does that mean we should not take them? No, it means we understand the risks and we accept those risks because we think the upside is worth taking the risk.

    Proving something is safe is not possible. It is an unattainable goal.

    Prove to me that solar power is safe. Prove to me that wind power is safe. Prove to me that eating a healthy breakfast is safe. You can’t.

    What really should be asked is what are the risks? Then the risks should be accurately assessed and compared to risks of what we would do otherwise and the option with the lowest risk should be chosen. Regulations can be developed to minimize risks. But that should not be confused with a no-risk option, which does not exist. A lot of people in this country are now so risk averse that they would have us do nothing at all.

  9. Lionel A says:

    And over here across the pond Cuadrilla have permission to test drill near the small village of Balcombe, West Sussex, England.

    CEO of Cuadrilla (A monster like Godzilla? Not very good for PR choosing that name.) claims that they have no plans for drilling there. According to Miller they will continue to concentrate their efforts in the NW of England where their activities have already be blamed for earthquakes in the Blackpool area.

    Cuadrilla are far from alone as a company UK Methane are thought to be considering drilling in the Mendips, a range of hills across Somerset and known for Cheddar Gorge and Caves, a huge reservoir and also the hot springs for which Bath is famous.

    This at a time when water is getting scarce in Southern England and other parts.

  10. Anne van der Bom says:

    Ok, we seem to be agreeing.

    When you say: No, it means we understand the risks and we accept those risks because we think the upside is worth taking the risk.

    Then the risks should be accurately assessed and compared to risks of what we would do otherwise and the option with the lowest risk should be chosen.

    you confirm exactly what is being argued here. That research and tests should be performed to discover and quantify the risks of fracking and then decide whether the benefits outweigh those risks. That is not being done an we simply take a wait and see approach.

    I mean, how can you do any meaningful risk assessment if the fracking companies are not even required to disclose the chemicals they are using?

    You seem to be taking things a bit to the extreme by suggesting ‘safe’ means: ‘absolutely guaranteed 100% safe’, when in reality it means: ‘safe enough’. Most people know that you can still die in a car that has 5 star safety.

    Nobody is expecting proof that fracking is 100% safe. But now even the most minimal of risk assessments is completely absent. That is simply unacceptable.

  11. Raindog says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful post. The problem is that many people really are looking for zero risk. That is why they say things like “the companies must prove that it is safe.”

    We need people who will instead say what you just said: Let’s look accurately at the potential upside and risks of shale gas and what we would do for energy if we do not pursue shale gas and make an informed decision. If shale gas comes out ahead (as it does by a longshot over coal and oil), let’s take all reasonable actions necessary to do it as safely as possible with full understanding that there is some risk and will be some accidents regardless of how careful we are. BTW all companies in PA are required to report the composition of their frack fluids.

    Vermonters are happily using ~100 billion cubic feet of gas per year. They should use more as they burn three times more fuel oil than they burn gas. Gas is far better for the local environment and for GHG emissions. In fact fuel oil use there is a far bigger environmental problem than fracking ever will be. The bill that they should be considering is a bill to encourage more people to switch from heating oil to natural gas (or wind and solar) if they really want to do something for their local environment. Instead they are doing symbolic anti-fracking votes that are just like the republican flag-burning amendments.

  12. Lisa Bracken says:

    Bravo to Vermont’s bold legislatures who recognize the inherent risks of hydraulic fracturing despite alluring industry-sponsored tales to the contrary. The natural gas industry continues to tout the ‘safety’ of natural gas extraction (fracign) in particular, through the omission of fact, threats against science and frustrating access to discovery. These tactics have successfully corrupted our oversight process in America, and even led the EPA to slice West Divide Creek away from its 2012 fracing study. However, it hasn’t fooled the people. If you want to see what fracing has done to West Divide Creek – and is about to do as EnCana unleashes the process against an already compromised hydro-geology, take a look here:
    As long as a majority of the states and counties are too afraid and ignorant to defend the environment and their constituents – Vermont will become valuable as more than a vacation spot. They’ll have one of the few spots left on the planet with potable water, breathable air, and any life left at all besides hornets and two-headed goats. Too bad I’m not kidding.