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Gas company halts use of fracking after northern Pennsylvania spill

A natural gas company has suspended a drilling technique involving chemical-laced water at its Pennsylvania wells until it determines the cause of a spill in the northern part of the state.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. said Thursday that crews have significantly reduced the flow of the chemical-laden water from its out-of-control well near Canton in Bradford County.

A blowout at the natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water Wednesday, contaminating a stream and leading officials to ask seven families who live nearby to evacuate as crews struggled to stop the gusher.

Chesapeake Energy lost control of the well site around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

Tainted water flowed from the site all day Wednesday, though by mid-afternoon, workers had managed to divert the extremely salty water away from the stream.

No injuries were reported, and there was no explosion or fire.

Chesapeake said a piece of equipment failed late Tuesday while the well was being hydraulically fractured, or fracked. In the fracking process, millions of gallons of water, along with chemical additives and sand, are injected at high pressure down the well bore to break up the shale and release the gas.

Chesapeake officials said Thursday that initial testing of area waterways has shown "minimal impact, if any" from the spill.

Neighbor Ted Tomlinson, who was among those asked to evacuate, said he worried that fracking fluids will ruin his drinking water well, several hundred yards from the blown-out well. His well and several other private ones around the Chesapeake gas well were also being tested for contamination.

"The biggest thing is the footprint on the environment," he told WNEP-TV. "Well, obviously this is a big footprint."

The blowout comes amid a natural gas-drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale formation below Pennsylvania and neighboring states, including New York. New York has imposed a moratorium on the practice pending further environmental review.

Fracking allows affordable access to gas supplies that once were too expensive to tap. Critics complain that the chemicals used in fracking may be contaminating water supplies.

The Chesapeake spill, coming exactly one year after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, gave environmental groups fresh ammunition to attack fracking as unsafe.

"How many wells need to blow out, how many people need to get sick, how many communities need to be devastated before elected leaders say 'enough is enough'?" said Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice. "The gas has been there for millions of years, it can stay there a little longer until we figure how -- and if -- we can extract it safely."

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