MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont appears on the verge of enacting the nation's first statewide ban of a hotly debated natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing.
The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a conference committee report calling for the ban. It now goes to the desk of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has said he takes a dim view of hydraulic fracturing and is expected to sign the measure.
"We don't want to be shooting chemicals into our groundwater in pursuit of gas that does not exist," Shumlin said after the House gave final passage to the ban on a vote of 103-36.
The hydraulic fracturing process involves a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals being forced into the ground to fracture layers of shale and allow the gas to be released. Environmentalists say the chemicals are a threat to the environment and public health. They also complain that drilling companies haven't fully disclosed what chemicals are being used.
The action in Vermont came the same day President Barack Obama's administration issued new rules governing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands. The rules set new requirements for publicly disclosing the chemicals being used — after drilling operations are completed — and implement new air and water quality protections. Also Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a nonbinding guidance describing cautions to be taken by gas drillers who inject diesel fuel during the hydraulic fracturing process.
It's unclear if there is enough natural gas under Vermont to interest the industry in drilling for it. Geologists who attended a news conference with Shumlin last month said they didn't believe that Vermont had the abundant natural gas that has been found in nearby New York state and Pennsylvania. But a shale formation that's been tapped for gas north of the border in Quebec extends south to beneath the northwestern corner of Vermont and Lake Champlain.
Shumlin said Friday, "I think it's in keeping with our environmental ethic and our protection of our natural resources that we make it clear that we wouldn't frack for it (gas) even if we had it."