Debate Over 'Fracking' Continues in Shale-Rich States

A small town's stand against a drilling company could impact the emerging natural gas industry in New York state, but the Denver-based company hopes to prevent that from happening. 

Privately held Anschutz Exploration Corporation is suing Dryden, a town of 13,000 south of Syracuse, over its recently enacted ban on gas drilling. The company has leased 22,200 acres of land in Dryden. The outcome of the suit could set a legal precedent in New York, where at least 12 local governments have banned drilling even though they are not likely drilling sites, according to Reuters .

It's a spat representative of New Yorkers' mixed feelings about the state's anticipated foray into shale gas drilling. The state's Department of Environmental Conservation plans to lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the controversial method of freeing gas from shale deposits by blasting deep into drilled wells a mix of water, sand and often toxic chemicals.

Fracking continues as a hot-button issue in statehouses across the country, sparking excitement for its promise to create jobs and revenues for states. New York estimates that new gas development in the state would bring between 6,198 and 24,795 full-time industry-related jobs.

But fracking is drawing protests from environmental and health groups who say the technique fouls local air and water. Opponents of the method point to instances in which the fracking process has been linked to exploded or contaminated water wells .

To address some of those concerns, the U.S. Department of Energy now suggests that companies should disclose the chemicals they use in drilling. There is no federal requirement in place, and just five states have enacted some form of chemical disclosure laws, NPR reports . Arkansas' rules are the strongest.

Portions of New York's Finger Lakes region sit on the largely untapped Marcellus Shale formation, which also stretches into parts of Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

New Jersey, like its northern neighbor, has been slow to embrace natural gas drilling. New Jersey legislators passed a bill this summer that would have permanently banned fracking. But Republican Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed the legislation, instead opting for a one year moratorium, during which officials will draw up regulations.

In Maryland, Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley recently put a three-year moratorium on fracking so that the state might study its impact on the environment and on public health.

Other states, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, have moved more quickly to develop natural gas industry, as Stateline has reported . An industry-funded report released this summer estimated the overall economic impact of drilling in the Marcellus region exceeded $633 million in 2011.

Ohio may soon leap further into the fracking mix. Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has begun for the first time to construct a state energy policy that will likely involve oil, gas and renewable sources.

Kasich has said he has no qualms about fracking. At Ohio's energy summit last week, he described Marcellus shale as a gift from heaven for a state in which one in four children live in poverty. ( video )

Enthusiasm in Ohio doesn't seem tempered by a recent  U.S. Geological Survey study estimating that the Marcellus formation contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — far less than the estimate of 410 trillion cubic feet the U.S. Energy Information Agency had been using.

Related Stories