MARQUIL, “Fracking Explained”, 2010

“Fracking”, or Hydraulic Fracturing, is the propagation of fractures throughout rock (‘Fracturing’) as a result of the introduction of a pressurized fluid (‘Hydraulic’). Simply put, Fracking is when rock cracks and breaks because some sort of liquid is pumped through it at high pressure.

Fracking can happen naturally, and often does – most rock contains evidence of natural hydraulic fracturing activity. “Fracking”, as a concept, is as natural a process as earthquakes and volcanoes (and, in fact, can be caused by both).

But most of the time, when people say “Fracking”, what they are referring to is a man-made process known as Induced Hydraulic Fracturing, which is mainly used to aid in extracting natural gas and oil.

Most everyone knows where oil and gas originate from – that is, deep beneath the earth, gathered in pockets trapped between layers of rock. The ideal situation for oil and gas miners are big whole pockets in somewhat soft rock – easy for their machines to get to and suck out all at once. Sometimes these layers and pockets aren’t cooperative, and exist as smaller, spread-out pockets in harder rock.

So, the solution they’ve come up with is to drill down, blow holes in the rock, and pump fluids into it to shatter the rock layers and let the oil and gas flow more freely and therefore more quickly and efficiently into the miner’s machinery.

But, there are several catches – one major one is that the fluid mixtures used in this process are highly toxic and/or radioactive, and tend to seep into groundwater (the stuff we drink). Another is that as much as 8% of the natural gas being extracted by a fracking operation will leak into the atmosphere over the lifetime of the well – and methane, if you didn’t know, is a greenhouse gas. Thus, a “fracked” well is fundamentally contributing to climate change. If that wasn’t enough, it turns out that in some situations, fracking can even cause small earthquakes.

Here’s a cute New York Times animated diagram that shows the fracking process and describes some of its hazards:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/27/us/fracking.html

I also want to link to the guy who did the awesome cartoon at the top: http://www.empirewire.com/frackingportfolio.html

(Before I end this, I want to add an interesting footnote: between 1961 and 1977, during Operation Plowshare –  a US government project to assess whether or not nuclear weapons could be used for peaceful demolition, construction, and agricultural purposes – methods were examined whereby natural gas could be ‘stimulated’ with nuclear devices. In other words, the same thing that fracking does, but with nukes. Fun stuff!)

(P.S., Obviously Operation Plowshare never went anywhere. But hey, we tried!)

– Patrick Benjamin

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9 responses »

  1. James Simmons says:

    Thanks for being brave enough to google and research it for me! In all seriousness, while the concept of fracking is interesting, pumping toxic chemicals into the ground is just a bad idea.

  2. Are there any alternatives to “fracking” with toxic chemicals and fluids?

  3. mvalenti (11) says:

    That’s pretty messed up. I didn’t know they used toxic chemicals to get the gas out. It’s crazy, another thing to worry about, polluted water supplies and more greenhouse gasses from this. Are we doing anything right??? Regardless, that diagram was pretty cool, it was really informative, I had no idea how that worked.

  4. I had no idea fracking contributed to our climate change very interesting thank you. The animation was also very cool and helpful.

  5. Hmmmm I dont think I want toxic and radioactive fluids in my water. You think a brita pitcher filters that stuff out? doubtful. Fracking and its consequences are new to me, thanks!

    ~CJ Hipp

  6. Is it true that places near sites where fracking is practiced have enough gas leaked into their water supply that they can light their tap water on fire? I’ve seen a few videos that blame this but I think it was denied by the companies doing it (of course).

    It amazes me that practices like this that are proven to be harmful are allowed to go on because they pump money into the government. The way they can buy in with lobbyists is not only immoral but it takes the voice away from the people.

  7. Amanda Koh says:

    Oh wow, nuclear waste in our water. Next step to evolution. Great post about fracking though, I didn’t know much about it at all till now.

  8. I did learn about this when I took geology it is amazing the life span of rock formations. But humans don’t need to be inducing any unnatural formations. Too much of something can be very very bad as you mentioned at the end of your post. But I liked this post because geology is a small hobby for me so it was nice that someone wrote a post having to do with it.

    ~Mackenzie Vartanian

  9. Ryan Schnee says:

    I don’t understand why the people who come up with these ridiculous methods of doing things to earth feel that it is alright to do so. I don’t know if it’s pure ignorance or downright corporate greed. Either one though is not good and these idiotic practices need to stop.

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