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