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Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed into law the nation's first statewide ban against fracking, citing concerns the oil- and gas-extraction practice could hurt the environment and public health.
"This bill will ensure that we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy," Shumlin said, according to CNN. The science behind fracking is "uncertain at best," he declared.
But supporters of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, say Vermont's concerns are unfounded. They also point out that Vermont has little financial incentive to support the fracking industry.
That's because Vermont does not have extensive deposits of shale rock from which oil and gas is extracted via fracking. The process involves using pressurized fluids to create fractures that release oil and gas trapped in rock more than a mile underground, well below natural aquifers, according to Reuters.
By contrast, shale rock is found under many other U.S. states, with a huge deposit stretching from upstate New York down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. Major oil companies are just beginning to tap into the deposits, and are planning to expand their operations.
But as Vermont's governor noted, there are risks associated with fracking. Methane and other gases can leak into the air, and the disposal of wastewater has been linked to fracking-related earthquakes, according to Reuters.
Chemicals used in fracking can also possibly contaminate groundwater, as an Environmental Protection Agency study suggested in December. But critics are blasting the EPA report as flawed, the International Business Times reports.
You can learn more about fracking in this Reuters infographic:
The debate over fracking's possible public-health effects is getting more nationwide attention. A recent NPR report highlighted possible fracking-related health problems "ranging from nosebleeds to cancer" in one Texas town. But scientific evidence is not yet conclusive, NPR reported.