Jerry Brown supports fracking.
Supporters of California Gov. Jerry Brown yowl for their man, who though Democratic - is a stated supporter of fracking. Photo by AP
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Reuters
A drill used for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Photo by Reuters

Fracking remains enormously controversial, but the report that the oil-extraction technique is about to lift the United States' oil production beyond that of mega-producer Saudi Arabia means it's probably here to stay.

The practice, which involves injecting water into the ground in order to fracture the rock and allow oil and gas to escape, has been associated by critics with earthquakes and heightened pollution, to name just two problems. Just today, Thursday, Ohio authorities shut down a local fracking operation while geological detectives investigate whether it could be behind the 11 quakes recorded there in a few days.

But an indication of just how crucial fracking has become to the American economy comes from next-door Tennessee, where lawmakers voted down proposals to ban the practice (and mountaintop mining, while about it).

As The Independent reported today, thanks to the practice, the United States is about to become a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, injects water mixed with sand and chemicals under pressure into a well-bore drilled into the rock. The idea is to create small controllable fractures in the rock, along which the sought-for hydrocarbons can migrate to the well-bore. These hydrocarbon layers may lie kilometers deep.

While fracking had once been confined to once per well life-time, as production diminishes, multiple fracking has become more common.

Proponents of the technique point mainly at economic benefits, not least achieving American independence from imported oil. Opponents bewail contamination of ground-water, depletion of fresh water supplies, and ground contamination from the rising hydrocarbons. More recently concerns have arisen that like mining, fracking can stabilize local geology and cause quakes.

The United Kingdom had banned fracking but later lifted the prohibition, favoring regulation instead. In the United States, legislation on the matter depends on the state, and Germany frowns on the practice but hasn't outlawed it. France has, becoming one of the countries to adopt the position of opponents and ban fracking outright, in 2011. Just today a French court voided a drilling license held by the American energy company Hess for fear that it would frack.