Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are injected at high pressure to split apart rock thousands of feet below Earth’s surface and release oil or natural gas. And it’s a controversial practice.
Most of the blame for climate change has been placed on the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but methane also plays a major role. Estimates are that about 1/5 of greenhouse effect warming is caused by methane in the atmosphere. There is far less of it than carbon dioxide, but methane is tremendously more effective at trapping heat.
The boom in natural gas drilling by conventional methods and by fracking has led to a spike in methane emissions from pipelines, storage tanks, processing facilities, and other parts of the natural gas system. Natural gas is mostly composed of methane, so these emissions constitute waste and lost revenues. But they also represent a serious environmental problem because methane is 25 times more effective in trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide.
The widespread use of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) as well as improved drilling techniques have created a major boom in natural gas production. This unquestionably has positive economic impacts for many. One of the important consequences of this is that natural gas is increasingly taking the place of coal for powering electrical generating plants.