Frack Attack: Vermont Enacts Fracking Ban
Last Wednesday, Vermont became the first state in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice of extracting natural gas by drilling and injecting chemicals deep below the Earth’s surface.
The Vermont ban grew largely out of concerns that fracking might contaminate water supplies and other natural resources. At the signing ceremony, Governor Shumlin noted that for future generations, “…. drinking water will be more valuable than oil or natural gas. Human beings survived for thousands and thousands of years without oil and without natural gas. We have never known humanity or life on this plant to survive without clean water."
The ban may be largely symbolic: There is little to no natural gas to be found within (or, perhaps more aptly, beneath) state lines. But Vermont's actions are important, nonetheless. The Vermont ban sets a standard for New Jersey lawmakers and other state and provincial governments that are considering enacting stronger regulations on fracking. New York and Quebec remain the only states and provinces that have enacted a temporary moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, which has become the most efficient and popular method of extracting natural gas in many areas. In the last two decades, hydrofracking has greatly expanded in the Western and Plain States and has begun to move into the shale-rich South and Northeast. Canadian gas companies operate the largest and most intensive hydrofracking operations in the world, most of which are located in gas-rich British Columbia and Alberta, but the industry has also been expanding into Eastern provinces like Quebec. Industry’s reaction to the Vermont ban (largely negative, of course) could indicate how the development of strong fracking regulations will play out in other states and provinces.
Fracking has made huge waves in the Jewish community, with tensions escalating especially after the industry began to expand in gas-rich states like New York and Pennsylvania, which have significant Jewish populations and are home to many Jewish summer camps. During its biannual meeting in late April, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint instrumentality of the Union for Reform Judaism, its affiliates and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, adopted a resolution noting the significant energy and environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing. As Jews, we have a long tradition of stewardship going back to the earliest verses of Torah that call on humanity to protect and honor our water, air and land resources l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. In debates over the role that natural gas and, specifically, hydraulic fracturing play in North American energy and strategic policy, we must live up to these values by ensuring communities are protected by the highest environmental and public health standards.
Stay tuned for more to come on hydraulic fracturing as North American state, provincial and federal governments pursue different approaches on this issue.
Image courtesy of the office of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.