What is Fracking?

Modern-day news stations create the perception that fracking is a newly discovered method of extracting oil, but the practice has been used by drillers as early as the American Civil War. Fracking is a process that involves using a pressurized water system and explosives to create cracks and fissures in deep wells. Gaining a better understanding of what exactly this oil-extraction method is and why a global controversy is swirling around it will help the public determine what the future of this industry should be.

The History

Petroleum deposits have been valued and utilized by early settlers in America, even predating the industrial revolution. Early drillers in the 1850s bravely decided to drop explosives down into a well to break up rocks and stimulate the release of oil. One Civil War veteran, Lt. Col. Edward A. Roberts, patented the idea in 1866. He introduced the technique as an “exploding torpedo” that blasted fractures into oil bearing rock and sand. The earliest of such fracking methods utilized gunpowder, but later designs incorporated liquid nitroglycerin. The well is filled with water to more efficiently fracture the surrounding area.

Almost an entire century later, petroleum production experts began using the method commercially in both oil and natural gas fields. The technique has since been duplicated millions of times. The American Oil and Gas Historical Society explains that 90 percent of all United States oil and natural gas wells have been fractured.

The Controversy

The reason that nearly every U.S. oil well has been fractured is because the method has an immediate positive impact on production, minimizes drilling and provides access to otherwise unattainable oil. The past few decades have resulted in an unprecedented explosion of data and research about climate change. Many global warming and alternative energy advocates have attacked U.S. fracking methods as environmentally irresponsible. There have been concerns over transporting large amounts of water, earthquakes and potential pollution-related issues.

There has been some warranted public concern about the fracturing process causing earthquakes. The concern led to dozens of scientific studies and research teams, and the evidence is clear. Former advisor to President Obama, Mark Zoback, explains that while some small earthquakes have occurred during hydraulic fracturing, such events are very rare. The U.S. Department of Interior explained that the small earthquake risks were already well-known by the government as far back as the 1960s. The concerns over possible chemical pollution and water-transportation methods are handled by regulations that have been in place by the government for decades.

Looking to the Future

Most advocates against hydraulic fracturing are really postured against fossil fuel use in general, and they are instead interested in pursuing more eco-friendly alternatives. The issue is not the technology or method of extracting oil and gas, but rather the western reliance on oil. Hydraulic fracturing has uses outside of extracting natural gases and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency has even cited the practice as an important tool in cleanup methods at Superfund sites.

It’s necessary to have a complete understanding of what the fracturing process involves, the history of the practice and the controversy surrounding it to understand its potential uses in the future. As our global society becomes more eco-conscious and conservative, humanity can still benefit from the various uses the technology provides. The method’s history and recent controversy demonstrate that the public’s alarm over fracking is more of an indication of a global shift away from fossil fuels rather than a warranted concern over the process itself. The technology has been used for centuries in the United States, and will likely continue. The main question is: should we be utilizing fracking to extract more domestic oil and continue down the path of fossil fuel reliance?

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