What is fracking and how does it work - Summary

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There are many controversies that exist around the use of fossil fuels, as well as the ways in which they are extracted. For its part, fracking is not without controversy and discussions about the repercussions it causes on the environment. For this reason, from Ecologist Verde we want to detail what is fracking and how does it work. In addition, we will also talk about the consequences it causes and the advantages and disadvantages of its implementation. If you want to know everything about this process, do not hesitate to continue reading this post.

What is fracking

In order to understand what fracking consists of, first we are going to define it. Fracking, known in Spanish as hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used for the oil and gas extraction from reservoirs.

The history of fracking begins in the middle of the last century and arises in a context marked by the fossil fuel shortage and by the reaching of the maximum ceiling for gas and oil production in a world population with growing energy demands. Given this fact, the need to find new deposits to exploit was imminent, although many of these were of poorer quality and difficult to benefit. Precisely, to reverse these difficulties, new exploitation techniques emerged, including the most widespread: fracking.

If you want to know more about the subject, do not hesitate to visit these other articles on What are fossil fuels and how they were formed or the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

How fracking works

So what is fracking? Well, in principle a well vertically with a depth of more than 2 kilometers. Once the layer where the hydrocarbon to be extracted is found is reached, the well direction deviates to penetrate said layer as long as possible. Now what is known as fracking or hydraulic fracturing begins. For this, some explosives piercing the pipe and subsequently water is injected at very high pressure along with a chemical series. The objective of these injections is to widen the fractures of the rocky substrate, where the hydrocarbon is found and thus facilitate its exit to the outside.

For its part, around 200,000 cubic meters of water and more than 500 chemical products are used for hydraulic injections, of which:

  • 17 are considered toxic to aquatic organisms.
  • 38 are acutely toxic.
  • 8 are carcinogenic substances.
  • 7 are mutagenic elements.

Also, many of the chemical products are of unknown composition since it is a "business secret" of the entities that carry out this technique.

Consequences of fracking

The risks of fracking are multiple and affect various areas. Next, we are going to see some of the consequences of fracking.

Water contamination

One of the major consequences of fracking is the contamination of underground aquifers and water tables. The risk lies in the fact that when the rocky substrate is fractured, there are also fractures reaching aquifers, thus contaminating its waters with the chemical products used in the technique.

Here we leave you this other post from Green Ecologist where you can discover the Causes and consequences of water pollution.

Air pollution

As we have already mentioned, a large number of chemical compounds are used in the implementation of fracking. Many of them are from volatile nature and culminate in the air that we breathe. On the other hand, volatile compounds are also used in the production stage.

We leave you this article on Health problems due to air pollution so that you can become more aware of the subject.

Soil contamination

The soil is also affected by the implementation of fracking. In principle, it is common for water to spill next to the chemicals being injected. In addition, each platform requires around 4,000 trucks to compact the site's soil. As a result, the soil is completely unusable.

Find out more about Soil Pollution: causes, consequences and solutions.


An increase in seismicity has been shown in certain areas where fracking is intensively developed. It is necessary to clarify that, for hydraulic fracturing, the rocky substrate is pressurized more than 100 times and this overexertion can cause the displacement of underground faults, caused earthquakes.

Here you have more information about the Earthquake: what it is, how it occurs and types.

Climate change

The gas obtained from fracking is practically made up of methane, a greenhouse gas. Fracking is closely linked to climate change since any methane escape during drilling, extraction or production contributes to global temperature rise.

You can find out How to reduce greenhouse gases in this other Green Ecologist article that we recommend.

Advantages and disadvantages of fracking

Next, we are going to summarize some of the aspects, both positive and negative, of fracking:

Advantages of fracking

  • It has had a positive impact on the economy.
  • Employment rates have increased.
  • The gas obtained is cheap to export.
  • It allows the extraction of hydrocarbons from unconventional deposits, that is, of those where the porosity and permeability of the rocky substrate make extraction difficult.

Disadvantages of fracking

  • Its implementation supposes a high environmental risk and also for the human health and biological diversity.
  • As we have mentioned, fracking causes contamination of water, air and soil, increases seismicity and contributes to climate change.
  • The exact chemicals used during the operation are not known.
  • Hydraulic fracturing activities require an immeasurable amount of water.
  • The platforms where fracking is carried out occupy a large area of land.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is fracking and how does it work, we recommend that you enter our Pollution category.

  • Mooney, C. (2011). The truth about fracking. Scientific American, 305 (5), 80-85.
  • Urresti, A., & Marcellesi, F. (2012). Fracking: a fracture that will take its toll. Political Ecology, 43, 23-36.
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