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Fracking employs plenty of lawyers

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Jeremy Hobson: Now to fracking — a process used to extract natural gas from rock formations. New York state’s attorney general is threatening to sue the federal government this week if environmental regulators don’t agree to a study of fracking. The suit would be just the latest in a growing number of legal actions against the practice.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.

Sarah Gardner: The U.S. is awash in natural gas. But the latest drilling technology that’s made the glut possible isn’t winning any popularity awards. “Fracking” involves a high pressure cocktail of water, chemicals and sand injected into shale rock — deep underground. Gas companies are drilling wells from Pennsylvania to Wyoming, and it doesn’t always go smoothly.

Richard Lippes: There have been explosions of homes, there’s a lot of people who can now actually light their water.

Buffalo attorney Richard Lippes says the mad rush to squeeze gas from rock is already turning into a “fair employment act for lawyers.” Lippes is an old hand at pollution suits. He defended victims of Love Canal back in the day. He’s brought a half dozen fracking lawsuits in Pennsylvania and New York.

Lippes: Water contamination is one of the major problems.

Along with toxic wastewater spills and air pollution. Some homeowners are bringing in firepower from the Big Apple. Marc Bern is a partner with the Manhattan firm that won a whopper settlement for 9/11 cleanup workers.

Marc Bern: We have cases in Colorado, in West Virginia; we are looking at areas such as North Dakota, Wyoming.

Bern is also suing on behalf of families in Dimock, Penn., a fracking contamination case made famous in the Oscar nominated doc “Gasland.” He’s also weighing the first fracking class-action.

Bern: Wherever there is shale and there is natural gas trapped underneath, there will be litigation.

But gas companies are fighting back hard. It’s not just profit at stake: fracking could ensure 100-year supply of U.S. gas. University of Tulsa law professor Hannah Wiseman says even if you don’t live near a gas well, you might want to pay attention to these “frack fights.”

Hannah Wiseman: Hydraulic fracturing is important in that it has allowed production of an abundant, domestic resource that is typically viewed as cleaner than other fossil fuels.

And all the roads, trucks and pipelines that go with it may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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