March 7, 2012

SCIENCE AND POLICY: What the Fracking Frack?

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In the early 80s, an oil and gas company issued a press release about its plans to “frack” a well. But now, you will never hear anyone from the energy industry or conservative politics using the word “frack.” Instead you read “hydraulic fracturing,” or sometimes “fraccing” if they’re trying to be sneaky, or “clean energy” if they’re blatantly lying.  Even Obama didn’t use the word “frack” in his state of the union address when he was offering praise for natural gas development. (

The thing is, the word “frack” reminds us of a few other words.  With popular slogans such as “Don’t frack with our future,” “No fracking way,” and “We’re gonna frack you up,” (I may have made up that last one) it’s clear that the word “frack” is a stand in for… “smack,” right?  And who likes getting smacked around? Maybe a couple people. But there are clear negative connotations associated with this word, and natural gas advocates, (or maybe… frack-vocates?) recognize this and are steering away.

The real problem is, the word “frack” reminds us of dirty things because it is a very dirty practice. Think about it. Big drills penetrate deep down into our precious earth, blasting thousands of gallons of toxic chemical discharge, sometimes contaminating groundwater and making people sick, and finally leaving the land ravaged and desecrated. And then there is that annoying issue of what to do with the small pool of toxic wastewater afterwards.

With countless cases of groundwater contamination (, and contracts leaving the lessees with destroyed land and contaminated drinking water (, there are countless of people that have been “fracked” in every sense of the word, inside and out. And it will only continue to get worse: gas companies are planning to drill thousands of new wells in South Africa, with each well using millions of gallons of water in an area already riddled with drought. ( Really? Just frack them while they’re down.

So here’s what to do. We need to put the word “frack” into the dictionary, and not just when discussing hydraulic fracturing. Let’s bring it into our everyday speech! I expect to be hearing the following phrases during my people-watching sessions at CTB:

“Hey, wanna get fracked up tonight?” “Oh man, that prelim fracked me.” “I just want a good frack right now.” “Fracking frack. Frack!” Frack you later.

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Original Author: Denise Robbins