We've followed the effort in Vermont to ban fracking (now complete, the first state to do so) for some time, so I won't rehash it all beyond reminding people that considering the state's (very) limited natural gas resources, yes, it is all largely symbolic—and that symbolism is important.
Since we've known that the ban has been coming for some time, the thing that really has caught my attention in all of it is not the ban itself but a statement by Governor Shumlin.
In the coming generation or two, "drinking water will be more valuable than oil or natural gas," Shumlin said. "Human beings survived for thousands and thousands of years without oil and natural gas," he said. "We have never known humanity or life on this planet to survive without clean water."
It's a simple statement, but entirely correct, not critically simplistic and actually quite profound, considering both the nonchalance that the fossil fuel industry seems view the threat of water contamination from fracking and what often seems like the general assumption even in the green community that civilization itself halts without energy supplies equal to what fossil fuels now provide.
What I mean is this: For all the benefits in terms of human development that having stable access to electricity and liquid fuels undoubtedly bring—make no mistake about it—on the most basic fundamental level electricity is not needed for life, nor for civilization. But without clean and adequate water supplies civilization fails quickly and life ceases only a bit longer afterwards. Ditto for adequate and healthy supplies of food, the production of which is entirely dependent on clean and adequate water.
We can debate whether fracking does contaminate water supplies (it's entirely been demonstrated that it can, if not the frequency of this occurring), or whether technological improvements can eliminate that risk, but when it comes down to it, even one aquifer contaminated is too many, as is even one well.
Remember, how much energy we use and where that energy comes from is a choice we make both personally and collectively.
Beyond a very very basic level of need for cooking and heating in cold climes, energy use all is a broad category of want and desire. Want of energy is relative and ever changing (and apparently ever increasing). Need of energy on the other hand is very low, in a survival context—especially compared to what we think we need, in the US, in 2012.
Need of water is an absolute. We die very quickly without it and get sick very quickly if its dirty, even if it's available in adequate quantity. That in many places we waste water, both though ignorance of the issue and systemic inefficiency, and that waste can create shortage, is another issue. The amount of water an individual needs for survival is fixed and largely timeless.
The fact of the matter is that while we may want more energy, in some places in the world even need more energy from an environmental and social justice standpoint, in no way do we need this source of energy. If as a society (which fossil fuel companies are a part of, directly and indirectly) we are willing to invest the millions invested in fracking, then we ought to be willing to invest that much in energy sources that don't post any risk of water contamination and that emit no greenhouse gases.
It's a question of priorities. Are we going to continue prioritizing short term wants (corporate want of profit, essentially, from entrenched wealthy corporations) over the timeless need for clean water, clean air and stable climate?
Thankfully in banning fracking Vermont has chosen the right priority, and taken an appropriately precautionary position, with the right timescale in mind.