Scientists Say: Fracking

This technique pumps liquid down into the Earth to send natural gas and petroleum up to the surface

This is a fracking site, where liquid is pumped deep below ground to extract petroleum and natural gas.

This is a fracking site, where liquid is pumped deep below ground to extract petroleum and natural gas.


Fracking (noun, “FRAAH-king”)

Fracking is the short word for hydraulic fracturing. It is a technique used to get oil and natural gas from rock, usually from a type of rock called shale. Over millions of years, natural gas or petroleum can build up between layers of shale rock. To get at this energy source, engineers drill deep roles into the rock. Then, they pump in liquid at very high pressure. The fluid shatters the rock, which frees the fossil fuels so that they can be pumped to the surface. Any other liquids that come out, including the fluids pumped into the holes, tend to get injected back underground.

In a sentence

The fluids pumped back into the ground from fracking may cause earthquakes, and the chemicals in those liquids may be toxic.

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Power Words

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crude oil  Petroleum in the form that it comes out of the ground.

fossil fuels  Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas —  that has developed in the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plant or animals.

hydraulic fracturing, or fracking  The cracking open of undergound rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract natural gas. Those cracks are then held open by sand that had been added to the fracking fluid.

natural gas  A mix of gases that developed underground, like crude oil (and often in association with crude oil) over, millions of years. Most natural gas starts out as 50 to 90 percent methane, along with small amounts of heavier hydrocarbons, such as propane and butane.

petroleum  A thick flammable liquid mixture of hydrocarbons. Petroleum is a fossil fuel mainly found beneath the Earth’s surface. It is the source of the chemicals used to make gasoline, lubricating oils, plastics and many other products.

pressure  Force applied uniformly over a surface, measured as force per unit of area.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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