Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking or fracking, has been used in the U.S. for decades, though environmental safety and health concerns about hydraulic fracturing have emerged in recent years due to the growth of shale gas production. Fracking is a technique in which large volumes of water and sand, and small volumes of chemical additives are injected into low-permeability subsurface formations to release petroleum, natural gas or other substances for extraction. Far below the earth, the injection pressure of the pumped fluid creates fractures that enhance gas and fluid flow, which can increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of hydrocarbons.
Those who support fracking note the economic benefits from vast amounts of formerly inaccessible hydrocarbons the process can extract, while those who oppose it cite the practice's potential impacts on drinking water and other environmental damage. Congress has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study of fracking to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater. The practice is allowed in the U.S., though regulation is being weighed at both state and federal levels. In 2012, Vermont became the first state to ban fracking.
It is estimated that hydraulic fracturing is used for more than 50 percent of the natural gas wells currently drilled each year in the United States, accounting for 30 percent of U.S. gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Shale gas production could account for almost half of all U.S. gas production by 2035.
Fracking is a practice used worldwide in such countries as Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and China. France and Bulgaria, meanwhile, are among countries that have banned fracking.
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