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'Fracking': Did Energy Department report clear up controversy?

According to the US panel, 'fracking' to release gas deposits in shale can be done in an environmentally responsible way. The industry hailed the report as refuting shrill critics, but environmentalists decried 'advocacy-based science' by a panel tilted toward the industry.

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Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release vast supplies of natural gas trapped in shale deposits can be conducted in an environmentally responsible way, a federal energy panel has concluded, but only if major steps are taken, including greater transparency by the gas-drilling industry, the close monitoring of groundwater quality, and the adoption of rigorous emissions standards.

The Department of Energy panel – the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee – created in May at the direction of President Obama to study the controversial fracking procedure, released its findings in a report early Thursday.

The report was hailed by the gas industry as showing that environmental concerns about fracking were exaggerated, but it came under quick fire from environmental groups, who called the panel heavily tilted toward the oil and gas industry and accusing it of “advocacy-based science.” They said the findings could undercut environmental studies already under way.

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Fracking by natural-gas drilling companies has expanded rapidly, contributing to a dramatic rise in so-called “unconventional” natural-gas production – from about 2 percent of America's gas supply a decade ago to about 30 percent today.

The gas-rich Marcellus shale beds lying beneath New York, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the Northeast could supply trillions of cubic feet of natural gas for decades. But the process involves pumping tons of chemicals and sand into the ground under high pressure, which critics say can pollute groundwater and increase air pollution.

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