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Inside The World of Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, forces natural gas and crude oil out of shale buried deep below the earth by using highly pressurized and treated water.

The idea of fracking dates to the 1860s. But modern fracking really started in 1947, and with technological advancements in the past 15 years, it’s become a standard industry method to access natural gas in particular.

While many industry analysts argue that fracking is a safe and efficient way to tap a bountiful energy source, environmentalists and community groups say it is a dangerous and destructive technology, whose economic benefit is not worth the damage to the environment.

There’s been no conclusive evidence that chemical-laden waste water from the process is contaminating ground water, but several environmental groups point to anecdotal evidence that it has. A report released by Senate Democratsin 2011 accused drillers of knowingly using toxic chemicals in the process.

To help solve the issue, an Environmental Protection Agency study on the full impact of fracking, commissioned by Congress, is expected by the end of 2012.

One thing that might be agreed on is that few Americans know much about fracking or where it’s taking place. So we’ve put together a short guide to the process, with some insights from John Duda, director of the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Strategic Centerfor Natural Gas and Oil.

(Data are from the U.S. Department of Energy,which is actively involved in advancing hydraulic fracturing technology.)

By Mark Koba
Posted 20 June 2012

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images