Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting deposits of oil and natural gas that are too deep to reach by traditional drilling methods. Fossil fuels are non-renewable natural resources. They cannot be replaced once they are harvested from the earth. By using the fracking process, we can harvest previously inaccessible sources of fossil fuels. There is no doubt that we will eventually run out of fossils fuels, but using fracking technology we can make more fuel available until we are able to develop effective renewable energy sources.
Deep beneath the earth lies a layer dense rock called shale. Hydrocarbon fuels are trapped in this layer of shale. Typically, hydrocarbons would move closer to the surface of the earth where we could access them by traditional drilling. The shale blocks this movement, trapping the hydrocarbons and rendering them inaccessible. The fracking process has been developed to access these hydrocarbons. First, a well is drilled deep in the ground until it reaches the layer of shale.
Next, this well is flooded with water, sand and a few other chemicals to facilitate the fracking process. As water pressure builds in the well, microfractures are created in the shale. The trapped oil and natural gas can move through these tiny fractures into the well. Finally, the water can be pumped out of the well. The remaining sand keeps the well from collapsing while the hydrocarbons flow to the surface. This is the basic answer to the question of what is fracking.
The fracking process has been surrounded by controversy. Environmentalists claim that natural gas can escape into the groundwater. This contamination would be toxic for humans and animals that rely on this water for drinking. There are documented cases of such contamination near fracking facilities. Environmentalists warn that if fracking continues to expand more contamination will occur.
Supporters of fracking claim that most of the contamination comes from accidents and mishandling. They argue that when done correctly, the fracking process will not harm the environment. There are a number of safeguards in the design of fracking facilities that are meant to prevent contamination. The well is designed with three layers of casing to prevent any leaks of the oil or natural gas into the environment. Supporters claim that if more care were taken in the handling of the product, then the fracking process would be extremely clean.
In addition, fracking supporters point to the economic benefits of fracking. There are many regions of the United States that contain deposits of shale, rich in hydrocarbons. Prior to the development of the fracking process, there was no way to access these resources. Fracking opens up a whole new aspect of the energy industry and could create many jobs for Americans. It also frees us from further dependence on foreign oil. Fracking is not the final solution to our energy problem. We still need to develop renewable energy. But the energy in fossil fuels obtained through fracking buys us some time to develop these renewable resources.
What is fracking? It is an alternative process for obtaining fossil fuels. Many supporters think that this process will provide jobs and create a reliable source of energy for the near future. There are also many detractors who think that the potential for environment damage is not worth the economic advantages.