Friday, October 25, 2013


Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves accessing oil and natural gas deposits deep below the earth’s surface by injecting pressurised fluids into a horizontal bore. The fracking fluids create fractures or fissures in the crust and free the trapped oil or natural gas which can thereafter be extracted. The horizontal bore, which can extend laterally for 3,000 to 5,000 feet, provides a larger surface area for the escaping gas, and is one of the key innovations that have made this process economically feasible. The jury is still out on whether fracking has adverse environmental consequences. Proponents argue that if done carefully the technology can be used to access hitherto inaccessible deposits, thereby prolonging our addiction to oil. Critics point out that the fluids used in the mining process can contaminate groundwater resources and lay agricultural land barren. (This is an informative animation that I came across that explains the process in greater detail.) Although the technology was developed in the late 1940s, its use became commercially viable only recently. As of 2010, it is estimated that 60% of all new oil and natural gas wells were being hydraulically fractured. The New Oil Landscape places fracking in a broader socio-economic context, and proved to be quite insightful. It is the sum total of my knowledge on the subject. Needless to say, I am not aware of the academic debate surrounding the technology.

I also came across a movie — Promised Land — that portrays fracking in a negative light. It stars Matt Damon and Frances McDormand, both gifted actors. Initially quite excited by the questions raised (I always enjoy watching the evil plans of big corporate conglomerates being thwarted by ordinary people), my enthusiasm was somewhat subdued when I came to know about the controversy surrounding the financing of the movie. Apparently, it has been backed by some subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian oil cartel, which has vested interests in delaying the development of fracking (Most of the oil deposits in the Middle East are conventional ones which stand to gain if fracking proves to be environmentally disastrous). Although, the financier claims that the backing was provided regardless of subject matter or genre, one is forced to wonder. The movie itself is not spectacular and I watched it only because of aforementioned reasons.

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