Conservation groups debate gas drilling ties in Pa.

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 10:14 p.m.

As a natural gas drilling boom sweeps Pennsylvania and other states, conservation groups are debating whether it makes sense to work with the industry to minimize impacts to the environment — and whether to accept industry donations.

The big question is “how to deal with this overwhelming impact,” said Phil Wallis, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Audubon Society, adding the industry “in general, is interested in resolving these issues.”

The drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made it possible to tap into deep reserves but has raised concerns about pollution.

Thousands of wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and hundreds of miles of pipeline have been laid to transport gas to market.

Environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research on water and air pollution issues that stem from drilling.

The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly.

Sitting down with people in the industry makes sense, said Mark Brownstein, the chief counsel for the energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“If environmental groups who are both passionate and knowledgeable fail to engage the natural gas industry, who will?” Brownstein asked. “If we simply sit and protest, we're missing an opportunity” to create stronger regulations.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania owns or has easements to about 500 acres of land in the region, and drilling company representatives have approached it numerous times, according to executive director Jim Bonner.

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