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 previously considered 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 a surge in domestic oil and natural gas production in the United States.

You might think this would lead to increased energy security for the nation, but fossil fuels are bought and sold in a global marketplace meaning that additional production here could just lead to more exports.

Burning oil and natural gas emits greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming. Fracking poses serious health and environmental issues.

We need to get off fossil fuels not increase production.

Related Posts


Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.