The controversy over hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the production of shale gas has become a major issue in a tight congressional race in upstate New York.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), a vocal critic of fracking, is in a tough election battle with George Phillips, a Republican from Broome County, NY, who supports shale development and state regulation of fracking.

Fracking has becoming an issue in House races in Pennsylvania and in Texas, but the race in New York "is the most contentious one," said Phillips spokesman Jazz Shaw. Fracking, which is used to stimulate many oil and gas wells, is a process in which fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to fracture the rock and increase the flow of fossil fuels.

Environmentalists and others contend that the practice is a threat to public health and the environment, and have called for federal regulation of the activity. Producers argue that fracking is safe.

Hinchey, 72, is seeking his tenth two-year term in Congress to represent the 22nd district -- part of which is over the Marcellus Shale play -- while Phillips is trying for a second time to unseat Hinchey. He lost to Hinchey in 2008. The two candidates are in "virtually a dead heat" the day before the election, Shaw said.

Hinchey is one of the sponsors of the FRAC ACT -- Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act -- legislation that would transfer regulation of fracking, which is currently handled by the states, to the federal government (see Daily GPI, June 10, 2009). The oil and gas industry is the only industry exempted from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Legislation restricting fracking could shut down production from the country's prolific shale plays, including the Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville and Marcellus, producers told Congress last year.

Hinchey also authored a proposal that called for the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the risks of fracking to the nation's drinking water. The EPA study got under way in March (see Daily GPI, March 19).

Unlike Hinchey, Phillips wants to "keep the federal government out of the [fracking] process and let the state DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] continue their work investigating" the practice to determine whether it is safe, Shaw said.

"The public made [fracking] an issue" in the congressional race, he noted. "We need jobs up here" and shale production would provide them, according to Shaw.

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