Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill that calls for a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on Wednesday, a largely symbolic gesture but one that makes the Green Mountain State the first in the nation to outlaw the practice.

“This is a big deal, and it’s an important moment for Vermont,” Shumlin said Wednesday. “As we pursue fracking with irrational exuberance, injecting chemicals into the groundwater of America, it seems that we may have taken leave of our senses at times. This bill will ensure that we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy.

“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.”

Industry organizations called the ban misguided.

“The decision by the Vermont legislature to pass a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing follows an irresponsible path that ignores three major needs: jobs, government revenue and energy security,” said Rolf Hanson, senior director of state government relations for the American Petroleum Institute (API). “An uninformed ban on a proven technology used for [more than] 60 years is short-sighted and irresponsible, particularly when Vermont benefits year-round from natural gas safely produced in neighboring states and provinces.”

John Quinn, executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council, an API member, told NGI’s Shale Daily that it was unclear what effect, if any, Vermont’s decision would have on neighboring New York and Quebec, which each have their own moratoriums on fracking (see Shale Daily, March 10, 2011; Daily GPI, July 28, 2008).

“I think the vote speaks for itself,” Quinn said Thursday. “They don’t see it as giving up a natural resource because there’s nothing that’s ever been started there. There’s a relatively unique set of dynamics politically up there. It’s being treated purely as a political statement.”

Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, also blasted Vermont’s decision. “The actions taken by the Vermont state legislature and Governor Shumlin have resulted in putting into law poor policy that ignores fact, science and technology,” he said. “Each day across North America, natural gas is being produced safely and responsibly.”

New Jersey came close to enacting a ban on fracking last year, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the idea, installing a one-year moratorium instead and calling for additional study (see Shale Daily, Aug. 26, 2011). In North Carolina, the state’s regulatory structure doesn’t allow for fracking, but legislators are working on several proposals that could allow the practice, perhaps as early as mid-2014 (see related story).

Although the bill in Vermont, H464, calls for a ban, it also requires that state regulators start studying ways the practice can be performed safely (see Shale Daily, May 7).

H464 calls for the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources to submit a report with the agency’s recommendations to three committees — the Senate and House Committees on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources — by Jan. 15, 2015. The secretary would then have another year to submit another report, this one with a summary of findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on fracking (see Shale Daily, Oct. 21, 2011; July 29, 2011).

The original version of H464 — introduced on Jan. 3 by Reps. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier) and Peter Peltz (D-Woodbury) — called for a fracking ban on the grounds that operators could not guarantee the practice would not contaminate underground water supplies. The state House of Representatives substituted the ban for a three-year moratorium on Feb. 1, but the state Senate voted 27-1 to reinstate the ban on April 19. The House passed the compromise bill on May 4 by a vote of 103-36.

Although the U.S. Energy Information Administration doesn’t list Vermont among states with crude oil or natural gas production, a report by Laurence Becker — director of the Vermont Geological Survey and the state’s geologist — reported that the Stony Point Shale formation in northern Vermont has similarities to the Utica Shale in southern Quebec. Northern Vermont is also home to the Iberville Shale.