Cabot Corporation has three recent chemical spills at one well site in Pennsylvania , and regulators ordered the company to halt its use of a drilling technique that uses liquids to fracture rock and release natural gas.

The Pennsylvania EPA order applies to eight of Cabot's drilling sites in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

An agency spokeswoman called the order the toughest action the department has ever taken against a company drilling into the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation.

The company voluntarily shut down its use of the drilling technique -- called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a well-used practice in West Virginia.

"The department took this action because of our concern about Cabot's current fracking process and to ensure that the environment in Susquehanna County is properly protected," said the DEP's north central regional director, Robert Yowell.

Earlier this year, state officials blamed Cabot's drilling operations for causing methane to seep into some nearby residential water wells in Susquehanna County.

The act left area water unsafe to drink and the potential for the water wells to explode.

The State of West Virginia has been unable, through studies, to determine whether or not coal sludge pumped into the ground in southern West Virgina has tainted wells.

Faucets in the area dispense a dark, slimy substance which causes the skin to burn.

Cabot must complete a number of engineering and safety tasks before it can resume fracking.

Houston-based Cabot has been cited for violating the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law and several other laws in connection with the spills.

If the Marcellus shale ends up producing even a small fraction of the recoverable gas that is projected to be there, it will be the largest gas field ever in the United States.

Much of WV, including Central WV, rests above the valuable formation.

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