By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday launched its first major salvo in support of shale oil and gas development, unveiling a campaign promoting the economic benefits of the booming energy sector that is under fire from environmentalists.
The powerful business group will be running newspaper and radio ads in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia where the shale gas boom has sharply boosted drilling.
"There are critics and opponents and we welcome that debate," said Karen Harbert, who heads the energy arm of the chamber.
"We're going to take that on and humanize it with the real stories that are happening across the country."
Touting the potential of shale energy to revitalize areas hard hit by the economic downturn, Harbert said the "Shale Works for US" campaign will highlight local success stories with people already benefiting from shale development.
The chamber's campaign comes as green groups intensify their attacks on shale gas development. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are planning a national rally in Washington D.C. on Saturday attacking hydraulic fracturing.
Advances in hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to extract fuel, have unlocked vast shale gas resources across the nation.
Some environmental groups have called for more federal regulation of fracking, which they say pollutes the air and taints groundwater. Supporters say the practice is safe and has been used for decades.
Facing a tight election in November, U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed his support for shale gas, as well as its economic potential.
Still, the Obama administration has acknowledged the concerns raised by its environmental voter base and the administration has proposed air emission rules and a new regulatory regime for fracking on public lands.
Harbert said the chamber will challenge any Obama administration policies that it believes will hamper development.
"We will not shy away from being a very active participant in the national dialogue, so we fashion the common sense policies we need," Harbert said. "We do not need more regulation for regulation's sake."
(Editing by Marguerita Choy)