“Fracking” made the short list for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2011 for the U.S.  It joined “Tiger mother,” “Arab spring,” and “The 99 percent” (though it lost top honors to “Squeezed middle”).

The dictionary entry notes that fracking is “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas. [Shortened < hydraulic fracturing.]”  However, some may prefer the explanation provided in the popular video “My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song),” which was produced by NYU journalism students in collaboration with ProPublica.

On a more serious note, fracking poses a substantial risk to drinking water supplies.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report in early December that linked hydraulic fracturing to water contamination in the drinking wells of families living in the small town of Pavilion, Wyoming.  Samples from the EPA’s own monitoring wells detected synthetic chemicals that are used during the fracking process in the underground water aquifer.

Hydraulic fracturing is not confined to the U.S.  ELAW partners in countries like Ukraine, South Africa, and Australia are monitoring new proposals that involve fracking to extract natural gas from underground rock formations.  Sharing information from the U.S. will help leaders in other regions take appropriate measures to protect precious drinking water supplies.  Good news emerged from Bulgaria just this week, where lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to ban fracking, effectively halting a plan by Chevron to use the process to drill for natural gas in that country.

Liz Mitchell
Staff Attorney