Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the controversial and widespread industry practice of extracting oil and natural gas from deep below the earth’s surface by drilling a well and pumping it full of fluid under extremely high pressure. The pressurized liquid – containing undisclosed chemicals – fractures rock formations, releasing the oil and natural gas for drilling companies to collect and speed to market.
The increasingly heated debate over fracking centers on two issues: (1) The liquid drilling companies use to fracture rock formations contains carcinogens that can contaminate drinking-water sources when injected into the earth under extreme pressures; and (2) The process generates liquid waste – containing not only chemical carcinogens but also naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), like radium – that the industry dumps into rivers and other bodies of water. The practice can also adversely affect air quality.
Halliburton first began using the practice commercially in 1949. Today, fracking is a common industry practice – used by oil and gas companies around the world to stimulate extraction from tens of thousands of wells. In the United States, drilling companies have been fracking for years in Pennsylvania (Marcellus Shale), Texas (Barnett Shale), Oklahoma, Colorado and other western states. New York is the only state to have initiated a fracking moratorium, in the wake of a groundswell of public opposition.
Pro-business legislators in the United States have exempted fracking from environmental laws, like the Safe Drinking Water Act. The oil and gas industry continues to avoid fully disclosing the chemicals it uses in the process.