UPDATED April 16th, 2018
Can you answer the question: What is fracking? Although most of us have heard of fracking and know it has something to do with oil and natural gas, that’s about as deep as our understanding goes. As fracking in the U.S. continues to increase we can expect more controversy over its effect on the environment and more headlines on each side of the debate. So it may be time to dig a little deeper (pun intended) into the subject so you can get a basic understanding of the process.
Fracking is the informal name for hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting hydrocarbons (like oil and natural gas) from the ground that’s been used since the 1940s. You may be wondering why, if it’s been around for decades, fracking is suddenly such a big deal. It’s simple, it used to be very expensive but recent technologies have made it an extremely economical way to get at oil and gas reserves.
So what is fracking? It begins with a well dug vertically—anywhere from under 1000 to over 8000 feet—then thousands of feet horizontally (picture and underground L). Water mixed with sand, chemicals and additives like salts, acids, alcohols, lubricants and disinfectants is pumped into the well at an extremely high pressure. This causes fractures to form in the surrounding rock releasing reservoirs of natural gas or oil which can then be pumped out. The water is also pumped back out leaving the added sand to settle into the fractures which prevents them from closing. And now you have an active well!
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