Three Bills Aim to Bar “Fracking”

Image: As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on gun control legislation in the coming weeks, one of Capitol Hill’s key players on the issue – Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. – already has staked out some positions in the debate. But he is awaiting more information before he makes up his mind on several key questions.

by Cole Chapman

BOSTON —Although Massachusetts is not known for petroleum exploration, two bills have been filed in the Legislature to pre-emptively ban hydraulic fracturing – a natural gas extraction process better known as “fracking.”

Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, and Rep. Peter V. Kocot, D-Northampton, have co-sponsored one bill that would bar the exploitation of shale located deep beneath the ground for natural gas production.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Garballey, D–Arlington, has two bills filed regarding fracking. One, filed last year, would require disclosures about what chemicals are being used in the fracking process while the other is a ban similar to Provost’s.

Even though there is little interest in what geologists believe are meager pickings for petroleum in the state, and state regulation now bars the fracking process, both lawmakers are in earnest about their proposals.

“I’d love her support and she certainly has my support for her legislation but basically I think we all agree on the issue which is to protect the public health of our constituents,” said Garballey.

Fracking has become a polarizing topic over the past decade. The American Petroleum Institute touts it as a “game-changer” while environmentalist groups such as Environment Massachusetts say fracking would contaminate drinking water, dry up water reserves, and even cause minor earthquakes.

Anika James, a field associate for Environment Massachusetts, considers fracking a threat to the Connecticut River, the Mohawk Trail, the Quabbin Reservoir, “and our most picturesque farms and forests.”

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a highly pressurized liquid mixture of water and chemicals into underground shale layers to release natural gas deposits.

According to the Petroleum Institute, fracking has already produced a surplus of natural gas in the U.S., generated $62 billion in government revenue and created 1.7 million jobs in 2012.

But the debate over jobs and revenue versus the environment is largely a conceptual one in Massachusetts, which only has one potential source of petroleum in an area known as the Hartford Basin.

Springfield sits within the borders of the basin, which extends 34 miles north out of Connecticut. The basin is about 15 miles wide where it crosses the Massachusetts border before thinning out to a close near the northern part of the state.

Fracking became an issue in Massachusetts when the U. S. Geological Survey released a two-page study in June assessing five underground shale areas along the East Coast. The study also identified a series of other basins, including the one in Massachusetts, which were not assessed because of a lack of information.