Fracking 101

Sneha Sharma

You might remember from your middle school science class that fracking has something to do with extracting oil. What you may not remember is that the fracking process, also called hydraulic fracturing, is an extraction process using pressurized liquids to create fissures in the rocks so that natural gases and oil can be pumped out. The fracking process was invented in 1862 by Colonel Edward A.L. Roberts, and has been used for oil extraction in the US since as early as 1947. Over the past years, the process has been honed and the cost of production has reduced sufficiently, making it economically- feasible to extract oil through shale. 

Source: NRDC

Fracking as shown in the figure below has enabled the US to increase oil production significantly since 2005 enabling it to become one of the world’s top oil producers. This has also decreased the United States’ dependency on oil imports. The fracking industry has, “reduced energy prices, brought cleaner air by significantly reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 25-year-lows, strengthened our national security, and transformed the United States into a global energy superpower”.However, it is believed that fracking causes environmental damage and increases the risk of earthquakes. Also, there is a potential for the by-products to contaminate the underground water table.

Source: U.S Energy Information Administration

The fracking industry has created many well-paying jobs. The American Petroleum Institute noted that in 2012, about “9.8 million jobs or 5.6 percent of total U.S. employment” was created by the fracking industry. So, the real political debate the country needs to have is how to balance the potential environmental damage with the energy independence and the jobs the fracking industry provides.

The past two presidents’ have supported the fracking industry by providing the shale oil companies leases. However, President Biden is hoping to steer the US away from fracking during his presidency. Although he does not plan to ban fracking, President Biden has said that he will not allow any more new permits for “natural gases and oil projects on federal lands and waters,” (Council of Foreign Relations). Canada, China, and Argentina are the only other countries that are able to produce and export shale oil, although some parts of Canada have banned fracking on lands owned by indigenous people.

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