A bill that would ban natural gas drilling, commonly known as fracking, in Massachusetts for 10 years is moving forward in the Massachusetts State House after the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture approved it on Wednesday.
Mass. Rep. Anne Gobi, house chair of the joint committee, said after testimony from both sides of the issue, the committee decided to ban fracking until Dec. 31, 2024 in order to wait until more information comes forward about fracking practices and its impact on the environment and economy banning fracking
“Now the bill will most likely end up in the Ways and Means Committee and they will take a look at what the financial impacts of either moving forward with fracking or not and if there are any industries that would be adversely affected by not moving forward,” she said. “They will make the decision to either release the bill favorably or not, and it may come to the floor by the end of July.”
Although there is no proof of significant shale gas sources in Massachusetts, some fracking companies believe there could be a limited amount along the Connecticut River in Pioneer Valley, Gobi said.
Bruce Everett, professor at Tufts University who specializes in environmental economics, said there are no significant shale gas resources in Massachusetts and the bill is a symbolic statement of a bad principle. He said private companies should be able to look for shale gas because the economic benefits of fracking outweigh the environmental problems.
“It’s easy for politicians to come out against something when there are no practical consequences to it,” he said. “In other states where there is shale gas and they’re allowing it to be produced, it’s having a tremendous economic impact. Since energy costs have fallen, manufacturing is getting a rebirth.”
Mass. Sen. Marc Pacheco, Senate Chair on the Joint Committee of Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, said there are many places around the country where aquifers were damaged by fracking and could no longer be used for drinking water.
“We thought we should have a ban on fracking until we have the scientific proof that these new strategies are being developed and implemented in a way that does not impact the environment,” he said. “Massachusetts is not a big market for the fracking industry, so there’s no economic loss of not fracking.”
In Pioneer Valley, where many people use wells for their drinking water, fracking could potentially destroy the water supply, said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts, a statewide advocacy organization that started the Don’t Frack Massachusetts campaign.
“We have really seen across the country the scale of the environmental damage that fracking has cost,” he said. “There have been over 82,000 gas wells drilled since 2005, which has created billions of gallons of toxic waste water, air pollution that has made people sick and contributed to the devastation of hundreds of thousands of acres of rural and natural landscape.”
Hellestein said there is no place for fracking in Massachusetts and is enthusiastic about the bill moving forward in the legislative process.
“If the bill is passed it would be one of the strongest anti-fracking bills in the entire country,” he said. “The fact that the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources has passed this bill is a sign that the legislature is taking this issue seriously and that we have the potential to be the leader in the national fight against fracking and dirty drilling.”
Everett said the main concern people have with fracking is the potential damage to water supply, which can easily be avoided because gas extraction is a simple industrial process.
“It’s my view that if you just do this operation properly, there is no damage on the environment,” he said. “What underlies the argument is that people are afraid that the economics of fracking are so good that it will undermine wind power and solar power, which environmental organizations favor because they are zero carbon.”
In the next 10 years, Massachusetts will be paying attention to developments in the natural gas industry to see if safer ways of natural gas extraction can be implemented in Massachusetts, Pacheco said.
“Its up to those that are pro-fracking to prove to us that their strategy and the science behind what they do is done in a way that does not impact the environment negatively,” he said. “The burden is on the industry to prove to the state that they can do it in a safe and effective way.”