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County Fracking Ban Deemed A Win By Conservationists

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Tuesday's elections were a mixed bag for animals: Michigan wolves fared well, Maine bears and Colorado pit bulls not so hot. But as far as the threat that increased hydraulic fracturing could pose toward animals, conservation organization the Center for Biological Diversity is declaring victory.

Considering the noise, size of drilling sites and fluids used to force natural gas out of shale deposits, fracking poses a potential threat to wildlife. In 2012, a pair of Cornell researchers reported 24 cases in which fracking was linked to injury or death in animals.

Three counties - in California, Texas and Ohio - passed anti-fracking measures.The Center for Biological Diversity highlighted a particularly successful fracking ban in San Benito County, Calif., that won in the face of high pressure from industry advertisements. Local and national news outlets took notice of Measure J's passing, which outlaws fracking in the county, with the San Jose Mercury News labeling it a "groundbreaking" measure.

"The public tide is turning against fracking, not just in California but around the country," said the Center for Biological Diversity's Hollin Kretzmann, in a statement. "As voters from San Benito to Denton, Texas, showed, if regulators won't protect them from fracking pollution, local communities can and will use the ballot box to protect themselves."

Environmentalists have warned of the potential hazards of drilling natural gas since the ‘80s, but the extent of fracking's impact on ecosystems is unclear. As University of Wisconsin-Madison conservation biologist Sara Souther noted in August, "We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife." One reason for this lack of knowledge stems from the fact that the ingredients in fracking fluids, considered proprietary chemicals by the industry, aren't always disclosed.

But, with the passing of Measure J, an unknown mixture of chemicals won't be a problem for the species in San Benito County. The county is potential habitat for a variety of animals marked on federal and state lists as endangered, including the California condor, giant kangaroo rat and San Joaquin kit fox.