Hearing such terms as the “fracking industry” clearly identifies the user as a person of somewhat limited, and likely biased, familiarity with the oil and gas industry. It’s a little like referring to agriculture as the plowing industry or the planting industry.

Fracking, a slang term for hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from subsurface strata.  Fracking is not part of the actual drilling process. After the well is fully drilled and encased in steel and/or cement to ensure that there is no leakage into any groundwater, fracking fluid (a mixture of water, chemicals and sand) is pumped down into the well at extremely high pressure, fracturing the underground formations to allow natural gas and oil to flow more freely from rock pores to the surface.

Hydraulic fracturing is not a new technology, having been introduced to the petroleum industry by Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation (Amoco) in 1949. Today’s so-called “fracking boom” is really a boom in the extraction of oil and gas from deep shale formations through a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal or directional drilling, another drilling technique that first became widespread in the 1990s and that allows producers to reach targets that would not be accessible with traditional vertical wells. Recent technological breakthroughs in fracking and horizontal drilling have made shale and other unconventional supplies commercially viable.

For more information on fracking, check out our resources section.