What is Fracking?

by Angela Li
March 26, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing, more widely known as fracking, is a process in which a fluid is pumped at high pressure into a geologic formation to break up the rock, and release oil or gas trapped within. The oil or gas is subsequently siphoned out, along with any recovered fracking fluid (water combined with chemicals such as isopropanol). Frequently, these geologic formations are shale formations, and it is shale gas (an increasingly important form of natural gas) that is being extracted. Fracking has been largely embraced as a source of job creation and as helping the US on its way to energy independence, and shale gas is considered by many to be a cleaner-burning alternative to coal and other fossil fuels.

However, environmentalists have several qualms with the practice. First, fracking pollutes groundwater; several contaminated freshwater wells have been reported. Second, the process consumes vast quantities of water, much of which cannot be recovered. And lastly, fracking may be causing earthquakes in different parts of the country. These concerns complicate the issue of fracking, even as it becomes increasingly widespread.
*See also* The Colbert Report released a great episode about fracking last summer:
^ Features flammable water among other things!