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HARRISBURG, Pa. — So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it's enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years.
But freeing it requires a powerful drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," using millions of gallons of water brewed with toxic chemicals, that some fear could pollute water above and below ground and deplete aquifers.
As gas drillers swarm to this lucrative Marcellus Shale region and blast into other shale reserves around the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a new look at the controversial fracking technique, currently exempt from federal regulation. The $1.9 million study comes as the nation reels from the Deepwater Horizon environmental and economic disaster playing out in the Gulf of Mexico.