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7 states want to sue for fracking-related air quality

Demand tighter control of drilling site emissions

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As many states reap the benefits of fracking, others increasingly are lining up against it.

Led by New York, seven Atlantic states this week threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, seeking harsher air quality rules on the oil and gas industry and its most effective drilling method.

For all of its virtues, which include setting the U.S. on a path toward energy independence, fracking continues to meet stiff resistance, particularly as it moves north from Pennsylvania.

"Regulators have failed to require the industry to use available and cost-effective measures to control" emissions from drilling sites, wrote New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, the leader of the seven-state coalition that also includes Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

"Our coalition is putting EPA on notice that we are prepared to sue to force action on curbing climate-change pollution from the oil and gas industry," he continued.

Industry leaders immediately panned the looming suit, which puts New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an especially awkward position. The first-term Democrat continues to mull whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the use of water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rock and release fuel – in upstate New York, where an economic shot in the arm is desperately needed.

Some analysts think Mr. Cuomo, frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, will give fracking the green light and argue that Mr. Schneiderman's lawsuit threat may have been born from personal animosity toward the oil and gas sector.

"He campaigned against [fracking] in 2010 when he was elected. They've gone after the industry for other things. This is the latest in a series of Schneiderman initiatives against the oil and gas industry," said Yvonne E. Hennessey, an attorney with the law firm Hiscock & Barclay LLP in Albany, N.Y., who has represented clients in the oil and gas sector.

Ms. Hennessey said she thinks Mr. Cuomo ultimately will approve fracking on a limited basis in the state, a move for which New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also has expressed support.

But others remain staunchly opposed. Vermont, a member of Mr. Schneiderman's coalition, is the only state to have banned fracking. Major cities, including Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, have done the same.

Other critics are directing their fire at President Obama, who has applauded domestic oil and gas production but presides over an EPA that may be poised to crack down on it.

On Thursday, a group of doctors and scientists ramped up pressure on the White House, urging more research before the U.S. boosts exploration and begins exporting fuel to other nations.

"The question here is very simple: Why would the United States dramatically increase the use of an energy extraction method without first ensuring that the trade-off is not the health of Americans in exchange for the energy demands of foreign nations?" said Seth B. Shonkoff, executive director of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, in a petition to Mr. Obama signed by more than 100 others from the medical and scientific communities.

"Health professionals are coming together today to urge the White House to make sure that we have the facts prior to making this decision. The only prudent thing to do here is to conduct the needed research first," Mr. Shonkoff said.

Meanwhile, the industry continues to mount its own public-relations effort, centered on the fact that U.S. oil and gas supplies can help the nation become energy independent in less than two decades.

"The emergence of a new era of oil and gas development has been a game-changer, but there is potentially much more to come because the United States has the energy reserves and the technology to step development up to a new level. Technology is key," Rayola Dougher, senior economic analyst with the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters on Thursday. "It goes a long way to explaining why an energy revolution is happening in the United States."

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