Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as "fracking," has had a major impact on the economy over the last decade. The practice has created billionaires and started an oil boom in North Dakota and West Texas. It's also been the subject of controversy, as fracking has been linked with poisoning groundwater in Pennsylvania and creating earthquakes in Oklahoma.
Fracking involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into shale rock formations deep underground, which gains access to hydrocarbon reserves that had been considered impossible to access before. Because of this new technology, America has now become the biggest oil producing nation in the world, surpassing even Saudi Arabia. America now exports a tremendous amount of crude and processed oil around the world.
But it's still a very crude process. Oil-services giant Schlumberger Ltd. once described fracking as employing “brute force and ignorance,” and there's been a lot of questions about the chemicals used in the process and their effects on the natural world. The scientific studies firm Deep Imaging has been studying the methodology of fracking and discovered that current practices don't get all the oil that it could. While the study was meant to help the industry, conservationists are using it to predict the long term consequences of the practice. The chemicals used in fracking are carcinogenic and tests to nearby water sources have shown high amounts of pollutants from fracking runoff.
Diagram originally published in Bloomberg:
Attempting to legislate fracking has fallen out of favor on the state level, but many politicians are taking up the cause as part of platforms built on combating climate change. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a Tweet last month that if elected, she will ban fracking “everywhere” on the first day of her presidency. The idea has met with skepticism in the financial world, because taking a frack ban to private land would need an act of Congress, which William Featherston, an analyst at Credit Suisse described as “untenable.”