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Editorial: Time for fact finding on fracking

Should Massachusetts ban hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique also known as “fracking”?

An effort is under way to stop this particular type of drilling for oil or natural gas, which involves pumping water and chemicals into the earth to release otherwise hard-to-reach deposits. It’s certainly come to the attention of Massachusetts, particularly western Massachusetts, where there are shale gas deposits in the Connecticut River Valley, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

As Massachusetts has seen elsewhere, the issue of fracking is a contentious one. New York, for example, is wrestling with the question of whether hyrdofracking will be allowed in the state and the regulations necessary should it give its OK. California, too, is trying to find its own answer to the push to open up land to this drilling technique. While these two states have yet to decide what they will or won’t allow, it should be noted that they are involved in a painstaking process of gathering scientific data and information on fracking before coming to an answer.

Massachusetts would be wise to do the same.

That’s why an outright ban pushed by a group known as Environmental Massachusetts may be rushing the issue before all the facts are in.

The group, part of the citizen-based Environment America, is sounding the alarm because of what fracking is said to do to our water, air and environment.

But a ban at this time may be premature.

It seems there is little interest in the deposits here.

State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan has noted that “Even the experts who say there’s potentially a resource there, identify it as being of poor quality and limited amount, so economically it’s really not going to happen. And certainly from an environmental point of view, not something that we’d be supportive of.” And industry analysts say there’s likely not enough financial incentive for an oil company to tackle the shale gas deposits in the region.

What we would argue Massachusetts needs are tight regulations based upon science should the issue come up in the future. While this leaves the door open to future exploration, it would be possible to balance environmental protection with development of a resource that can help the state economically as well as with energy independence.

Following the New York model of having a moratorium on hydrofracturing to gather data and evidence before making any kind of decision allows science to prevail over fears that may be unfounded. That’s the best way to approach this issue.

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