Monday July 29, 2013

Is fracking an issue for Vermonters?

It would appear that this question was answered decisively last year when Vermont became the first state in the union to ban fracking, along with the importation and storage of the toxic wastewater associated with that process.

When Governor Peter Shumlin signed H.464 on May 17, he did so with the awareness that fracking has contaminated ground water in states like Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and that Congress has exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Act. The governor noted that "Very soon there is going to be a shortage of clean water on this planet. Drinking water will be more valuable than oil or natural gas. Human beings have survived for thousands of years without oil or natural gas. We have never known humanity or life on this planet to survive without clean water."

Shumlin again demonstrated his grasp of the climate crisis this past February when, in support of Senator Bernie Sander’s co-sponsorship of the Senate’s Climate Protection Bill, he stated, "We cannot act quickly enough to move our nation and our planet off fossil fuels, reduce carbon emissions, and promote safe, renewable sources of energy."

All well and good. But as President Barack Obama, for one, has demonstrated on all too many occasions, fine sounding words from politicians’ mouths don’t necessarily translate into commensurate deeds, especially when they bump up against the bottom-line needs of the corporate world. And while the fracking ban is positive, it’s largely symbolic because Vermont has little to no natural gas or oil.

The real test of where we, as a state, stand on this issue, arrives when our elected and appointed officials are confronted with a fossil fuel corporation which seeks to pursue a project in Vermont that is contrary to the values and sentiments expressed by our governor. Such a moment is now.

The Vermont Gas Systems is proposing the largest expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont in nearly 50 years. It is currently in the planning and permitting stages of a major natural gas transmission pipeline expansion in Addison County that would extend from Colchester to Vergennes and Middlebury, then under Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, N.Y., to serve the International Paper Company. It also has plans to build a pipeline to Rutland and to connect to the U.S. transmission lines in New York.

VGS is owned by GazMetro, the Canadian corporation that also owns Green Mountain Power which, through its recent purchase of CVPS, now controls over 70 percent of Vermont’s electricity. Furthermore, GazMetro is owned in large part by Enbridge, the world’s largest distributor of tar sands oil, and the same company that spilled one million gallons of tar sand oil into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010. Enbridge is currently attempting to build a tar sands pipeline from Alberta to Montreal, where it would connect to Portland Montreal Pipeline that crosses Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

VGS has admitted that gas transported through the pipeline will be derived in part from fracking in Canada. Not only does hydraulic fracturing contaminate drinking water, it also consumes between two and eight million gallons per well. And contrary to the claims of its apologists that fracked gas is a bridge to green energy, it really acts more like a gangplank because the "natural gas" that is harvested, as well as that which leaks from wells, pipelines and the fracking process, itself, is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide according to the EPA.

The decision as to whether to go forward with this project is now being considered by Vermont’s Public Service Board, which will determine if VSG’s proposal deserves a Certificate of Public Good. Not surprisingly, however, this approval process is highly flawed with groups opposed to the expansion being denied intervener status by the PSB in part because, "such status will unduly delay the proceeding or prejudice the interests of existing parties or of the public." This concern, however, hasn’t prevented large corporations, such as International Paper and IBM, from being allowed to participate.

Residents of Addison County, who are most directly impacted, are organizing to stop this project from being built on their land. Many residents of the towns along the route of the proposed pipeline have been organizing with neighbors to voice their concerns about the project at their town selectboards.

Opposition to the project, in part, centers on the fact that the proposed route has Vermonters’ homes situated permanently within the "Potential Impact Radius," the area within which everything would be destroyed in the event of an accident. Additionally, while Vermont has banned hydraulic fracturing within its borders, the VGS project would increase the utilization of fracked gas within the state. If Vermonters believe that fracking is so dangerous to humans and deleterious to the environment, why is it OK for Vermont to import fracked gas from Canada?

And why would we want GazMetro/Enbridge to extend its grip on the environment and economy of our state? Or to risk Lake Champlain becoming the next Kalamazoo?

The proposed pipeline is a false solution to the climate crisis. Any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure locks us into decades of fossil fuel consumption, in order for investors to make a return on their investment.

We can express our solidarity with our northern neighbors, and demonstrate that this issue involves all Vermonters who are concerned about climate change and corporate domination of our lives by calling Department of Public Service Commissioner Recchia (802-828-4071), to say "NO" to the Vermont Gas Pipeline, and participating in an action at the PSB public hearing on Sept. 11 in Middlebury.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802.869.2141 and info@postoilsolutions.org.