I would hazard a guess that most people in the developed world are now aware of what hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is. For those who aren’t, it is a technique used to extract oil and gas from previously inaccessible underground shale (rock) formations.
Fracking has had profound effects on the energy industry, so far mostly in the U.S., where it has created oil and gas booms in non-traditional places, moved the country closer to energy independence, and resulted in a huge reduction in the cost of energy, particularly natural gas.
It is, however, not without controversy. Environmental groups worry that we don’t know the possible effects of chemicals used in the process, and that contamination of the water supply could cause major environmental problems at some point in the future. Breaking up subterranean rock formations just sounds like a harmful thing to do, and many believe that earthquakes have been or will be caused.
I have no interest in taking sides in the debate, but any debate benefits from knowledge, so here are 5 things that you may not know about fracking.
1. It isn’t new
Hydraulic fracturing has risen to prominence over the last five or six years, but the technique itself has been around a lot longer. The first hydraulic fracturing experiment was conducted in Kansas in 1947. It was not successful, but a patent on the process was granted in 1949 and the licensed user of the technique, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company, began commercial operations later that year. Since then, about 90 percent of U.S. wells have been fracked.
2. It mainly uses sand and water
Environmental concerns about fracking center on the possibility of contamination by chemicals used in the process. This leads many people to believe that it is just a chemical cocktail that is being pumped into the ground. In fact, over 99 percent of what is pumped typically consists of sand and water. That doesn’t mean that contamination and environmental damage isn’t possible, but it may not be what you envisage.