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The Shale Gas Dilemma

Natural gas from "fracking" is lifting the economy, but it’s environmentally risky

A natural gas drilling boom spreading from Wyoming to West Virginia has polarized people in communities targeted for drilling. Gas is being produced by hydraulic fracturing, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to break up layers of rock freeing the gas to flow. The technique, taking place with minimal oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, comes with risks. Wastewater from the process has spilled into groundwater, and the EPA is conducting a study to determine the connection between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Regulators say up to 18,000 gas wells may be drilled in the basin, which runs through New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Property owners in Hancock, N.Y., have leased drilling rights to oil and gas companies. New York has placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing while it develops drilling rules.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

In Honesdale, Pa., residents are divided on whether to allow companies to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Anthony Herzog speaks at the Delaware River Basin Commission hearing held on Feb, 22 in Honesdale, Pa.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Joe Canfield speaks at the Delaware River Basin Commission hearing. The commission is drafting rules to allow hydraulic fracturing for gas in the basin.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Supporters and opponents of gas drilling attend the afternoon session of a Delaware River Basin Commission hearing held in the Honesdale, Pa. high school auditorium on Feb. 22.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Arline LaTourette, whose family has leased 700 acres for gas drilling, said at the hearing in Honesdale that regulations proposed by the Delaware River Basin Commission discriminate against oil and gas companies.

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Photograph by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Last year a test well was drilled in Damascus, Pa., along the Delaware River.

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Mark Ovaska/Redux

Outside of the Delaware River Basin in Pennsylvania, 2,516 gas wells have been drilled since 2008. The landscape in Susquehanna County of Northeast Pennsylvania is marked by gas drilling rigs.

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Mark Ovaska/Redux

Each well pad in a drilling site requires approximately 8 acres of land and 1,000 truckloads of materials to begin drilling and typically supports six wells.

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Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A natural gas wellhead stands on an Alta Resources drill site near Montrose, Pa. Companies are spending billions to drill for gas in the Marcellus Shale, a band of shale-sedimentary rock that underlies Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.

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Mark Ovaska/Redux

A recently reactivated stone quarry facility boasts millions of dollars in new equipment and some 20 full time employees.

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Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Marcellus shale drill cuttings, so designated because the deposit pokes through near a city of that name in northern New York, may contain 262 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, the U.S. Energy Dept. estimates.

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Mark Ovaska/Redux

Natural gas wells are connected by pipelines to move the gas to market, such as this pipeline running through Susquehanna County, Pa.

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Mark Ovaska/Redux

Many families have become involved in lawsuits with oil and gas companies, which they claim are responsible for their recently polluted water.