*UPDATE* Fact-Checking Gov. Shumlin’s Signing Statement on HF

UPDATE (10/15/2012, 1:15pm): File this in the “irony” category. Last week NG Advantage broke ground for a new natural gas compressor station in Milton, Vermont, an event that attracted local news coverage due to the economic benefits it could soon deliver to the state. And guess who was present to celebrate the positive impact natural gas could have on the local economy? Yep, Gov. Peter Shumlin, the same official who earlier this year said he hopes other states will follow Vermont’s lead in banning hydraulic fracturing.

The obvious exit question: how does Governor Shumlin think the natural gas he was praising last week actually gets out of the ground?

Original post, May 22, 2012

Last week, the state of Vermont made news by becoming the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, the proven well completion technology that’s been safely applied more than 1.2 million times since the 1940s. Of course, with no oil and gas regulatory system in place up there — and no state oil and gas act on the books — Vermont really wasn’t in much of a position to issue any exploration permits to any prospective producers anyway. But why let details like those get in the way of a great press release?

Vermont, of course, has little to no proven natural gas reserves, which of course makes the ban more of a political or symbolic statement than a prescription of sound policy. As The Oklahoman noted, banning hydraulic fracturing in Vermont is “like banning offshore drilling in Oklahoma.” Even the largest newspaper in Vermont acknowledged that the effort “will have little to no immediate effect here, as there is no drilling taking place, none proposed and no solid information that Vermont has the underground gas to draw interest in fracturing.”

Since there is little to no natural gas in Vermont, the state chooses to rely heavily on imported natural gas from western Canada — where, ironically, hydraulic fracturing has been used safely since the 1950s. How convenient, eh?

In signing the bill into law, Governor Shumlin issued this statement (emphasis added):

“As we pursue fracking with irrational exuberance injection chemicals into the groundwater of America, it seems we may have taken leave of our senses at times. There is going to be, very soon, in my kids’ and in the Twin Field students’ lives, a shortage of clean water on this planet. Drinking water will be more valuable than oil and natural gas. One can survive – human beings have survived for thousands and thousands of years without oil and without natural gas. We have never known humanity or life on this planet to survive without clean water. In the Green Mountain State we have a long tradition of protecting our natural resources and leaving this planet and this state hopefully better than the way we found it. You can look at the planet two ways. That we inherit it, and can do what we wish with it; or, that it is our responsibility to borrow it from our kids and our grandkids. In Vermont, we take the latter approach. We recognize that we’re borrowing Vermont from our kids and our grandkids. This bill will ensure that we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy. It’s a big moment. I hope other states will follow us. The science on fracking is uncertain at best. Let the other states be the guinea pigs. Let the Green Mountain State preserve its clean water, its lakes, its rivers, and its quality of life. This is a job creator. This is a job creator. If we have the clean water, the clean lakes, the clean rivers, the Green Mountains that are preserved, we will win both economically and environmentally. And that’s what this bill is about.”

Clearly, Gov. Shumlin is interested in protecting the state’s clean water resources, an interest you’d expect any public servant would have. But Shumlin failed to articulate why that means his state needs to ban hydraulic fracturing. Consider the following facts:

  • State regulators from across the country have affirmed that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate groundwater, consistent with findings from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council.
  • A comprehensive study from the University of Texas at Austin found “no evidence” that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water.
  • A study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania concluded that Marcellus Shale development did not impact available drinking water supplies.
  • In neighboring New York, state regulators spent years examining the possible risks of hydraulic fracturing, concluding last year that “there is no likelihood of significant adverse impacts from the underground migration of fracturing fluids.”
  • President Obama’s own EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has stated on multiple occasions that there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated ground water. The EPA came to a similar conclusion in 2004 under President George W. Bush and in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. In Dimock, Pa. — where activists and litigants have claimed for years that hydraulic fracturing contaminated groundwater — the EPA issued four separate test results showing there are no public health concerns with the water.
  • A recent study by the State University of New York at Buffalo concluded that strong, state-based regulations can protect — and indeed have protected — the public from major incidents, which shows just how misguided a ban on hydraulic fracturing truly is.

It may be easy for Shumlin to claim that the science is “uncertain at best,” but that doesn’t make it true.

There is also a deeper irony in the Governor’s hardline stance against responsible natural gas development: His own administration is encouraging more natural gas use as part of his energy and environmental strategy.

In Vermont’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan, the Governor laid out a series of steps that would move the state “toward a more sustainable and secure energy future for Vermont.” Here are a few key excerpts from that plan (emphasis added):

  • “[W]e must work to shift toward renewable sources and renewable-blended fuels for heating – creating opportunities for our local Vermont fuel delivery companies to bring these products to Vermonters – and toward expanded natural gas infrastructure to offer greater choice of heating fuel options to more Vermonters.” (VT CEP, p. 10)
  • “Natural gas can address two key needs: reduce Vermonter’s reliance on overseas oil for heating and for heavy fleet transportation, and help fill a gap in electric supply. Natural gas offers an opportunity to do these things with a lower carbon footprint than other fossil-based fuels. Although environmental concerns regarding hydrofracture extraction and methane release are significant, Vermont should not turn its back on this resource because it allows a lower-cost, less carbon-intensive source of energy than other traditional fossil-based fuels. As Vermonters noted again and again when providing input to this plan, deployment of all energy sources involves tradeoffs and choices. Vermont should choose to expand natural gas within its existing transmission territory and beyond.” (VT CEP, p. 11)
  • “By mid-century, Vermont should aim to expand its usage of natural gas from its present 5% foothold. Expansion of natural gas would, if environmental controls are heeded, provide carbon reduction benefit for every gallon of heating oil displaced, and it would allow room for the use of natural gas for peaking electric generation and for heavy-duty vehicle fuel.” (VT CEP, p. 11)
  • “The State can, right now, use its fleet to demonstrate the use of compressed natural gas and other emerging fuel technologies, including PEV, to meet the state’s GHG reduction goals per executive order #14-03.” (VT CEP, p. 15)

As for the ban on hydraulic fracturing being a “job creator” — something the Governor felt the need to state twice — the facts once again tell a completely different story. Oil and gas development was responsible for nearly one in every ten new jobs created in 2011 and is boosting local economies from coast to coast. President Obama has touted how natural gas development “will support more than 600,000 jobs” by the end of this decade, and shale in particular is helping to revive America’s vital manufacturing sector.

It’s anyone’s guess how banning the technology that facilitates all of that economic activity amounts to a “job creator” as the Governor claims.

Vermont’s new ban on hydraulic fracturing is nothing more than a symbolic rejection of the technology that helps deliver the affordable energy needed to keep Vermonters warm in the winter, the same energy that the Governor himself has extolled for its low cost and low carbon intensity.

Governor Shumlin says he hopes “other states will follow” Vermont’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing. If his own energy plan is truly a reflection of what his administration believes, he better hope those other states aren’t listening.


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