New York governor halts 'fracking,' but environmentalists see a 'loophole'

Fracking has become a hot-button issue in Washington in recent months. Environmentalists say the chemicals are harmful to human health and the environment, while industry downplays their effect. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a study on the practice, and House and Senate lawmakers have proposed legislation to give the EPA authority over the practice and force industry to disclose the amount and type of chemicals they use.

New York is seen by many as one of the main fracking battlegrounds. The Marcellus Shale, a rock formation with large swaths of natural gas, runs through much of the state.

While Paterson ratcheted back the state assembly's more stringent fracking ban, environmentalists nonetheless praised the move.

“With today's action, Governor Paterson has acknowledged that fracking poses serious threats to our health and safe drinking water — but his moratorium only protects us so much,” Kate Sindling, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post on the group's website.

But Sindling also raised concerns about a potential “loophole” in the executive order — because the executive order bans only horizontal drilling, Sindling said it’s possible that natural-gas drillers could increase their reliance on vertical drilling.

"[I]ndustry has also threatened to drill vertical wells in lieu of horizontal wells," she wrote. "State law mandates that only one horizontal well can be drilled per square mile, whereas 16 vertical wells could occupy the same area, carrying with them significant additional surface disturbance and environmental impacts."