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South Dakota House kills bill supporting 'fracking'

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- Any state law supporting the use of hydraulic fracturing as an oil production technique would be trumped by any federal regulations that might be passed, an aide to Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Thursday.

Nathan Sanderson, a policy adviser to the governor, said Daugaard and other state officials are seeking to increase oil and gas production in South Dakota and support the use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking."

However, Sanderson asked state lawmakers to reject a bill that sought to make it clear that hydraulic fracturing is an acceptable production technique for oil and gas in South Dakota. State law already allows fracking and the federal government will likely have the final say in regulating it, he said.

There's no need to clutter state law with language supporting something that's already legal, Sanderson said.

"It doesn't mean we're not in favor of oil and gas development in the state," Sanderson told a House panel.

More than half the members of the South Dakota House had signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, which was patterned after a similar measure passed last year by the North Dakota Legislature. But after Sanderson said the measure was unnecessary, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 9-4 to kill the bill.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, chemicals and grit underground at high pressure to create and prop open cracks in oil-bearing rock. That promotes the flow of oil.

Opponents argue that fracking could harm underground water supplies, but supporters say it is safe.

The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, said fracking is crucial to North Dakota's booming oil production and will play a bigger role in South Dakota as the state encourages more exploration and production of oil and gas.

Moe Webster of Mitchell, a former Marine, said she believes fracking should be banned because it puts chemicals into the environment. She said she is partially disabled because groundwater was contaminated at a base where she was stationed.

Supporters of the measure said they expect the federal Environmental Protection Agency will seek to regulate fracking. Passing a state law supporting the technique would send a message to the EPA that South Dakota believes it is safe, they said.

"I don't think it ever hurts to try to get the national government's attention," Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Rapid City, said.

But Rep. Kim Vanneman, R-Ideal, said the bill would have no effect on federal officials.

"The federal government, the EPA, is going to do what they're going to do whether we have this law on the books or not," said Vanneman, chair of the committee.

The EPA is conducting a study of fracking's environmental effects, with an initial report expected within a year. One of the agency's study areas is Dunn County, in southwestern North Dakota, where the agency will explore fracking's possible link to contamination of drinking water.