Vermont is poised to become the first state to ban a controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking.
The Legislature finished work on the measure Friday, and it’s on its way to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground to fracture rock that contains bubbles of natural gas.
Chittenden Senator Ginny Lyons was a lead sponsor of the measure in the Senate. Even though there isn’t much shale in Vermont that contains natural gas, Lyons said the ban is important as a preventative measure to protect the environment.
"We do have some deposits, shale deposits in the northwestern part of the state and possibly in the southern part of the state," she said. "As this kind of exploration goes on it results, possibly results, in significant problems with the drinking water safety. So it could affect ground water, as well as surface water.
Fracking has caused water and air pollution in other states, Lyons said. She says the Vermont ban could be lifted someday if studies show fracking is safe.
"But right now the industry is not forthcoming with the process and the chemicals that are used. So until we have total knowledge, I think we ought to err on the side of caution," she said.
A bill that passed the House earlier called for a moratorium on fracking. But a conference committee sided with the Senate’s version, which called for an outright ban.
Stowe Republican Heidi Scheuermann objected.
"We don’t know what our assets are in this state," she said. "We have no idea if some farmers in Franklin County might be able take advantage of an economic opportunity on their property.
But Westminster Democrat David Deen said he was comfortable with the ban. Deen, who chairs the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, said there really wasn’t much difference between a moratorium and a ban, since lawmakers can always change it.
"No legislature may bind a future legislature," Deen said. "And if we put a ban in place this time, by this time next year, that ban could either be a moratorium or lifted."
The final bill also includes language added by the Senate that bans drilling companies from disposing waste in Vermont from fracking operations out of state.
Governor Peter Shumlin has said he supports the measure, and has indicated he will sign it.