What the Heck is Fracking?

Explain fracking in 30 seconds. This was my opportunity and my challenge recently when a young man walking down an Oakland sidewalk asked me “What is fracking?”

Anti-Fracking Sign that says "End Fracking, Renewable 100%"This chance encounter occurred just prior to the anti-fracking March For Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA on Saturday, February 7, 2015.

Why did this man approach me, a complete stranger, to ask about fracking?

Likely because I was walking down the sidewalk carrying a large white sign mounted on ten-foot pole emblazoned with the words “End Fracking, Renewable 100%”.

I had no time to think and blurted out something like, “Fracking is a way to extract oil and natural gas by drilling a really deep hole then putting an enormous amount of water, sand, and toxic chemicals in the hole under extremely high pressure causing the rocks to crack and release their oil or gas. Fracking pollutes our air and contaminates our drinking water. Everyone needs clean drinking water, right. How about joining us?”

The man nodded then said he agreed clean drinking water is important and he would think about joining the march.

After this brief exchange, I realized two things. First, my anti-fracking elevator pitch needs work. Second, just because fracking, or any topic for that matter, is in the news or on social media that does not mean everyone knows what it is.

What is Fracking?

In short, fracking is a method to ‘stimulate’ oil and natural gas wells to maximize extraction, meaning get every drop out. Injecting water, sand, and chemicals under very high pressure into subsurface rock formations causes fractures (cracks), which allows natural gas or oil to escape up the well pipe.

Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, has been around since the 1950s. Advancements in fracking technology combined with new techniques for drilling horizontally make it feasible to extract oil and natural gas from shale and other rock layers deep underground that fossil fuel companies used consider inaccessible or too expensive to extract.

The following two videos use animation to show how fracking works and are both worth watching (together they last less than 12 minutes).

The first video was prepared for Marathon Oil Corporation. Although it glosses over the health and environmental issues associated with fracking, it does provide an excellent overview of the process.

Kurzgesagt, a German design studio, created the second video. It provides an easy to understand overview of the fracking process and some of the dangers associated with it.

Fracking is contributing to the surge in domestic oil and especially natural gas production, which could lead to increased energy security in the U.S. and possibly shutting down coal burning power plants. However, oil and natural gas are still greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels and fracking poses serious health and environmental issues.

We will look at fracking more in depth in future posts.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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