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E&E fracking report blasted as biased

ALBANY – Opponents of gas drilling and several state lawmakers Wednesday called for the Department of Environmental Conservation to scrap consulting work done by Lancaster-based Ecology & Environment as part of an environmental impact review of “fracking,” saying the firm is part of an industry group lobbying to lift the state’s 5-year-old shale drilling ban.

Ecology & Environment was hired in 2011 to do an economic analysis of how shale gas development would affect the state. It gave a positive picture of jobs and economic benefits.

Critics immediately panned the study, saying it didn’t analyze negative economic effects, including the toll of truck traffic on roads and increased health care costs. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens responded by saying the consultant would take a harder look at the costs communities would have to deal with if fracking is allowed, but no new report has been made public.

This week, Ecology & Environment was listed as a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York in a letter sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urging him to lift the ban.

“The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is – and has been – safe, good for our environment and for our economy,” Brad Gill, the industry group’s executive director, wrote in the letter to Cuomo on Monday. “Our ‘New’ New York must now join the nation and embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development. We need your help,” he concluded, noting that the letter was submitted on behalf of the group’s members.

“The roster that followed the letter identified the magnitude and diversity of our membership and did not purport to reflect each member’s individual point-of-view,” Gill said in a statement released Wednesday in response to questions raised about the impartiality of Ecology & Environment.

Neither the company nor the DEC returned calls seeking comment.

“Regardless of this firm’s expertise on purely technical matters unrelated to policy formation, Ecology & Environment’s participation in a trade association and lobbying effort in support of authorizing high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York fundamentally disqualifies the firm and its work” for the DEC environmental impact study, Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group said in a statement released Wednesday.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pumps water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into oil and gas wells to crack gas-bearing rock. Advancement in the technology has brought new jobs and wealth to many communities but has spurred opposition from those who warn of health and environmental costs. Many government regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.