What is Fracking?

An Introduction to Fracking

There has been a lot in the news over the last few years about “fracking,” but what exactly is it, and why is it surrounded by so much controversy? Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is a process used to extract oil and natural gas from previously depleted, or alternately hard to access subterranean reserves.

Some types of oil-bearing strata (such as sands or highly porous limestones, both of which have big “holes” that the oil occupies) are much easier to pump petroleum reserves out of than others (like shales and other less porous formations that have smaller or more inaccessible “holes”). In the very simplest of terms, fracking is a process that uses a slurry of water, sand, and various chemicals injected underground under extreme pressure to break up the rock underground to allow the petroleum to flow better, and thus be easier to pump.

The Controversy

While at first glance this may seem like an ideal new technology, there are a number of major environmental concerns that have never been properly addressed by the industry. The drilling process releases an assortment of highly dangerous chemicals as air pollution, including benzene, ethyl benzene (BTEX), xylene, toluene, ozone, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, methane, carbon monoxide, and potentially hazardous particulate dusts as well. Exposure to these various pollutants are known to cause wide ranging health problems: cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders, birth defects, silicosis, and even death.

The fracking process itself also often leads to contamination of the groundwater and soil pollution. The pressures used to inject the slurry into the bore shafts is high enough that it has a high tendency to leach into anywhere there is space, and in some cases that has included the water tables where local residents source their drinking water. In addition, runoff of the surface water, and leakage from the drilling retention ponds are also potential concerns. So what are the “various chemicals” that are finding their way into people’s drinking water around these sites? The truth is, at this point nobody really knows. Oil extraction companies have gone to great lengths to not divulge exactly what the “slurry” is composed of: they classify it as a trade secret, which allows a great deal of protection as far as reporting the contents of their mixture goes. It creates a catch-22; in order to get that information, plaintiffs would have to subpoena it during litigation, but they can not easily litigate health issues without knowing chemicals that would cause the issues are being used.


It has been suspected for some time that fracking may also have adverse geological effects as well, and recent studies conducted by the University of Texas around the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas has found causal links between fracking activities and earthquakes. This is called the “effective stress model,” and basically shows that pumping viscous liquid into areas with dormant fault lines have the same effect as oiling a hinge: it reduces the friction that is keeping it from moving, so not surprisingly it moves. Now the big question in Dallas is, will it eventually stop? That, however, is a question without an answer right now.

Call Colombo Law

If you have developed a medical condition that you believe was brought on by fracking activities in your area, contact a representative with Colombo Law today to discuss your problem and learn the potential solutions. The environmental hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing can create serious long-term health issues, and the sooner you have an experienced attorney on your side the sooner you can begin your recovery.

by Colombo Law
Last updated on - Originally published on