How Exactly Does Fracking Work ?

Jessica Miley

What is fracking? And why exactly is everyone still unsure about it? Luckily TED-Ed has made a really informative animated video to answer all these questions. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been in the limelight recently as it grows in popularity as other stores of natural gas are reduced. Deep underground, there are stores of once inaccessible natural gas, created over millions of years as layers of decaying organisms were exposed to intense heat and pressure. The site for a fracking operation can be anywhere where this underground gas is identified. This could range from a remote desert to an urban area.

The process begins by drilling down a wellbore, a long vertical hole. When the drill reaches 2500 to 3000 meters, it turns ninety degrees and begins horizontal drilling. This horizontal shaft extends for 1.5 kilometers.  

Once these shafts are in place, a special tool is sent down that perforates the casing of the well and the shale rock formation with small inch long holes. This perforated well and rock are then left for 3-4 months before the actual fracking process can begin.

Fracking fluid is then pumped down into the well at a really high pressure so that it cracks the rock around the well. The trapped oil and gas can now escape.

The fluid is 90% water with 10% a combination of acid, hydraulic fluid and disinfectant. These concentrated chemicals dissolve minerals and stop bacteria growth. The whole process leaves gallons of contaminated water at the site. This water, poisoned with radioactive material, salts and hydrocarbons, is usually stored on site in cement and steel encased wells. While this should safely house the problem water, any negligence or accidents can have devastating effects on drinking water and the local environment.

Scientists are still unsure how fracking impacts the globe's underground pressure balance. Some critics believe fracking can cause earthquakes and destroy underground infrastructure.  

But a new debate rages about fracking: whether the short term economic goals of the process are worth all the environmental damage. We know the gas is in limited supply. Could the money and time pumped into fracking be better spent researching new renewable energy sources?

Watch the whole video to get fully informed on this important debate.

Via TED-Ed

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