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U.S. drilling boom leaves some homeowners in a big hole

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fracking boomThe United States has a long history of keeping industrial activity out of middle and upper-middle-class residential neighborhoods. But that is starting to change with the spread of new technology for oil and gas drilling, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

The new techniques have allowed once-unreachable reservoirs of energy, trapped beneath the forested suburbs and bustling urban centers of places like Los Angeles, Denver and Cleveland, to be pumped out for the first time. As a result, millions of American homeowners now find themselves living within a mile of drilling activity that they say is deflating the value of their homes, making it hard for them to move.

It is one of the hidden costs of the oil boom, which has created thousands of jobs, spurred local economies and lowered domestic energy costs.

"You go to buy a home, you see that it has a well pad in the backyard, and essentially you might say I'm not willing to pay very much for this house," said Elisheba Spiller, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "That's where the drop in value comes in."

Spiller - along with Christopher Timmins, a Duke University economics professor, and Lucija Muehlenbachs, a fellow at think tank Resources for the Future - published a working paper on Monday that found shale gas drilling within a kilometer (0.6 mile) of a home can decrease property values by an average of 16.7 percent if the house depends on wells - and not municipal sources - for its drinking water.

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