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What is fracking, and why might it be banned?

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Quick Answer

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the Earth to force out and capture deposits of oil and natural gas. Many critics would like to see it banned because they believe it poses many dangers to people and the environment. In recent years, governments have begun to enact laws and craft regulations to ameliorate the dangers of fracking.

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Full Answer

Commercial fracking began in the mid-20th century; its use and the use of horizontal drilling account for the surge in U.S. production of natural gas and oil. A vertical hole more than a mile deep is drilled, then turned horizontal for several thousand feet more. A solution of water, sand and chemical additives is forced down the well and out of tiny holes in the horizontal portion of the well, causing micro-fractures in the surrounding rock. Sand particles hold the cracks open, while additives reduce friction and pipe corrosion.

Fracking is a highly controversial practice. Opponents claim that it produces a host of negative effects, including pollution of surface and ground water, pollution of the air and increased seismic activity. Many studies, including some performed by federal agencies, have provided evidence of some of these claims. Wyoming, Texas and Michigan have passed laws requiring companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking; the trend is toward increasing regulation and legislation.

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