One fracking minute: an animated explainer on hydraulic fracturing

There’s an oil and gas boom in North America thanks to an innovation known as “hydraulic fracturing.” In energy-rich regions around the U.S., oil companies are setting up so-called "fracking wells" to get natural gas and oil trapped in the shale rock deep underground. It's become a booming business in pockets of the U.S. -- and not without its critics -- and is the subject of a new series of stories on Marketplace about the country's potential to be a new Petro State and its impact on manufacturing.

Here’s how it works:

A drilling site is located, and a well is set up. Then the drilling begins - into the shale rock layer, sometimes a mile or two down. Then, the drill bit takes a turn and goes sideways for another mile or two. The well is lined with concrete cement, then drillers use a series of tiny charges to make initial holes into the rock.

Then... the frack. A secret cocktail of water, sand and chemicals is shot into the well, hitting the rock and fracturing it -- ergo,  fracking. It can take five million gallons of water – enough water to fill a thousand trucks -- to frack one well. Some fear that process can contaminate nearby drinking water. Critics are nervous the cocktail of fluids can leak in, or natural gas could migrate up. Industry says the key is to seal the well properly, and that they do. What do you think?

- America's energy boom revives Ohio's steel industry
The real energy gusher produced by Ohio fracking: Oil

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.


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