Natural gas in Vermont? No fracking way, say green groups

By Yaël Ossowski |

No drilling, no pipelines, and no natural gas.

If environmental groups in Vermont get their way, this could be the new slogan of the Green Mountain state.

That’s the message of their latest campaign to oppose the extension of a Vermont Gas Systems pipeline intended to transport shale gas from Canada to New York.

Vermont already became the first state in the union to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing to recover natural gas in 2012, but this latest move to block the pipeline specifically because it is natural gas follows a new message that may surprise many in the environmental movement.

“At a time when climate change demands we do everything we can to move away from fossil fuels, building a new gas pipeline in Vermont moves us in exactly the wrong direction,” said Sandra Levine, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, in a media release Monday.

She joins a coalition of groups headed by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, one of the most influential lobbies in the state, to gather signatures and oppose the pipeline project which would expand Canadian gas to Vermont homes.

Other opponents have raised other points in order to halt the transport of gas across Vermont territory.

“We believe that communities should have locally sourced, environmentally sustainable energy sources which are democratically controlled by workers and their communities,” said Emily Reynolds, a member of Rising Tide Vermont, one of the environmental groups opposing the pipeline.

“People are concerned about the environmental impacts of fracking in Vermont and in other sensitive areas such as the Athabasca region in Canada, people are concerned about the lack of participation in the democratic process on the decision,” she told

Currently, close to 70 percent of the energy produced in the state comes from nuclear power, and the rest from hydroelectric power from Quebec.

Considering the recent shutdown of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Stationcheered by environmental groups and Gov. Peter Shumlin, this could mean a sharp increase in energy bills in the coming years if no alternative is found.

AP photo

Energy users in Vermont already pay some of the highest prices for heating oil in the nation, according to the Vermont Heat Report released by the Vermont Public Service Department, a cost that is expected to grow because of colder temperatures and the already staggering number of Vermont residents on home heating assistance.

The question for activists is whether their opposition to the use of natural gas as a fuel matches with the facts on emissions and pollution of the environment, which they hold to be the central tenant of their protests.

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonprofit climate change think tank based in Arlington, Va., the amount of energy sector emissions in the year 2013 is at its “lowest levels since 1994, in part because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels, particularly coal.”

With no fracking currently allowed in the state and no discernible change likely to come in the next few years, it is uncertain what will fill the vacuum of Vermont’s energy needs, especially if environmental groups continue to have measure influence on state policy.

The 2011 energy plan released by the Vermont Public Service Department aims to have 90 percent of Vermont’s energy be renewable by the year 2050.

Yaël is a national reporter for Reach him by email at and follow him @YaelOss.

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