Vermont’s House last week voted 10–36 to give final passage to a bill that could make the state the first in the nation to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Vermont’s Senate has already approved the measure, and the bill is undergoing a final review by legislative staffers before being sent to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D). Shumlin has reiterated his opposition to fracking in Vermont, saying in April, "Here in Vermont, we want to ensure that we’re not injecting chemicals into our beautiful rocks for any reason.”

Even if Vermont bans the technology of extracting natural gas from deep in the ground by cracking deep ground rock formations such as shale using water, sand, and chemicals, the measure would largely be a “token gesture,” experts have said. The state has no natural gas reserves and no fracking is currently taking place. The same shale formation that has previously supported commercially viable fracking operations in Quebec extends south along Lake Champlain in Vermont.

Fracking has been in use for decades, but only much more recently has the industry developed the capacity to drill at depth horizontally within the rock formation for thousands of additional feet. The boom in natural gas production has helped increase supplies and slashed prices 32% last year. Several U.S. jurisdictions have imposed moratoriums on the practice, however, because of concerns about contaminated groundwater and a lack of peer-reviewed studies on the effects. The EPA is weighing nationwide regulation.

In the U.S., New York and Maryland both have moratoriums on the practice pending environmental review. Wyoming became the first state to require companies to disclose what chemicals they use in the process in 2010; it was followed by Texas and Michigan. In Europe, France banned fracking in July 2011, followed by Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Other countries, including Poland (which has huge technically recoverable reserves), are moving ahead with the process.

Sources: POWERnews, Gov. Peter Shumlin, EIA