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From: Paul Batistelli, Guest Contributor
Published August 8, 2013 01:24 PM

The Controversy Surrounding Fracking

The father of fracking, George Mitchell, passed away July 26, leaving many to think about the legacy he leaves behind. Though he didn't exactly invent fracking, the Houston native revolutionized the process by introducing horizontal drilling in the 1990s. Even more than two decades later, Mitchell's process of fracking is still a touchy subject. Though many are thrilled by the natural gas goldmine his drilling taps into, a lot of controversy surrounds the process, especially where the environment is concerned.

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What is fracking?

For millions of years, organisms found in rock formations buried deep under the ground have decomposed, creating natural gases. However, because the formations are so deep under Earth's surface, the gas deposits were trapped in pockets and not easily accessible. It didn't take long to discover that drilling into rock formations could break them, making it easy to extract the resources inside.

In the 1940s, Americans discovered the process of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. It involves not only drilling into the rock formation, but pumping pressurized water into the well to release gas. Since its invention, more than one million wells have been fracked. Most of these wells were drilled vertically, but due to population growth and increased energy consumption, these natural gas resources were quickly running dry. 

In the 1990s, natural gas extraction was a dwindling field — at least until Mitchell discovered horizontal drilling. His process allows access to thin horizontal layers in shale formations where large gas deposits are found. From there, companies can inject millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into the formation to fracture it and release the coveted gas. Now Mitchell's process is used all over the world to extract natural gas resources that power the globe. 

Fracking isn't black and white

With such a powerful economic benefit but daunting environmental effect, it can be hard to determine whether fracking is good or bad. But perhaps you don't have to fall on either side of the fence. If the process could change to be safer and more regulated, perhaps there is a middle ground between helping the economy and saving the environment. The father of fracking seemed to think so. During one of his final interviews, Mitchell told Forbes that hydraulic fracturing should face tougher regulations. "There's no excuse not to get it right. There are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed properly," he said. 

Stayed tuned next week for Part II of "The Controversy Surrounding Fracking" on ENN's Community Blog.

Drilling icon via Shutterstock.

Paul Batistelli freelances in the energy field for the promotion of a greener society and energy means. He works to raise awareness on ecological issues, energy dependency, and reducing carbon footprints. He currently resides in Dallas, TX with his lab, Copeland.

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