Forty years after the Arab oil embargo, the U.S. has become the world's largest oil and gas producer. This is largely the result of fracking, the shortened name for hydraulic fracturing, which uses water and chemicals injected into rock at very high pressures to release the oil and gas embedded within. Recent advances in this decades-old method of drilling have produced more oil and gas in the U.S. than most thought possible.
"Fracking is the biggest boom since the housing bubble...and even maybe the tech boom," says Gregory Zuckerman, author of the new book The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters.
Fracking is affecting "all kinds of cities ... industries -- not just the energy industry but chemicals and steel and changing geopolitics as well," Zuckerman tells The Daily Ticker. Fracking allows the U.S. to be "energy secure" though maybe not energy independent, he says.
"The Frackers" tells the story of the wildcatters who developed and exploited this technology. They saw what big oil companies missed, according to Zuckerman. "Exxon, Chevron all the big guys said 'We're going offshore...we're going to Asia ...Africa. We're giving up on America. 'And there were a few outcasts... in America who said 'now we're going to figure out how to tap shale' and they figured it out."
But questions still remain about the safety of fracking--about the methane gas it emits, which is considered more polluting than CO2, and the potential pollution of and depletion of fresh water supplies since fracking uses large quantities of water in the process.
Zuckerman admits there are safety concerns but says overall fracking is a potential positive for the environment because it allows the economy to move away from coal. "But it's only good if we're not emitting too much methane along with the natural gas," he says. "When done property it's really a benefit but often they make mistakes."
Zuckerman, an award-winning writer for The Wall Street Journal, supports groups like the Environmental Defense Fund which work to limit those mistakes. "We need more environmental groups to work with producers and put pressure on these companies...getting oil and gas from fracking rather than just saying 'fracking is poisonous'."
Even George Mitchell, who is profiled in Zuckerman's book and is considered the father of fracking, called for tight regulation of the industry. He told The Economist magazine in August, just months before he died, that "industry leaders must lend their best engineers and scientists to a national campaign, teaming up with counterparts from government, academia, and the environmental community, to develop strong state‐by‐state regulations and effective solutions to the environmental challenges of shale gas."