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How Hydraulic Fracking Works

Gas Up

As you can imagine, there are some pretty serious critics of fracking. But before we get into the pitfalls of the operation, let's address some of the advantages that proponents describe.

For starters, many point out that fracking provides people with loads of accessible resources that are normally trapped in the pores of rock.

There are environmental arguments, too: Instead of drilling many wells, the process involves drilling one well that shoots off horizontally, which has advantages on the surface landscape. Estimates say that 90 percent of natural gas wells today must be accessed through fracking [source: Bateman]. In addition, it's also argued that natural gas is a more environmentally friendly fuel than oil or coal, and that's true: It does burn more cleanly, with drastically reduced carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions [source: EPA]. (We'll see in the next section some arguments against the "clean" nature of fracking.)

Companies like Chesapeake Energy and Halliburton are also quick to point out that any time the U.S. is reducing its dependence on foreign oil, it's advantageous to American companies and consumers. And there's no doubt that hydraulic fracking has been successful at getting domestic U.S. natural gas: From 1.1 million fracking operations over the past 60 years, Americans have received roughly 600 trillion cubic feet (nearly 17 trillion cubic meters) of natural gas [source: Halliburton].

And we can't forget job creation and its friend, revenue. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimated that if the state reopened its doors to fracking (it instituted a ban on fracking in 2008), 17,6000 jobs would be created and $125 million in tax revenue would be accumulated [source: Schaefer]. Fracking -- and the oil and mining industry in general -- is no mom-and-pop operation. There are big bucks in it, and that's motivation enough for some. That big payout doesn't happen though for operators who accidentally tap into water supplies or destroy properties with accidents. For this reason, it could be argued that the payout is actually going to compel the operators to follow safe and ethical practices [source: Groundwater Protection Council].