After fears about peak oil, greenhouse gases, and our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, the world of energy has suddenly flipped. Oil and gas production are up, imports and CO2 emissions are down. The shale boom is giving America new confidence——but is it all it's made out to be?

Fracking is downright confusing. We can’t even agree how to spell it. The Wall Street Journal and other leading media outlets spell it with a “k,” while industry today prefers the clumsy, tongue-twisting “hydraulic fracturing.” The irony of this preference is that the term “fracking” was initially used by industry as convenient shorthand until it was co-opted by the environmental movement as a handy pejorative due to its similar structure to a common vulgarity. Signs of “Don’t Frack Our Land” and similar complaints are a common maxim among opponents to fracking. So industry has gone to the less efficient and more scientific “hydraulic fracturing” as a way to distance itself from the prevalent f-bomb. The meaning of “fracking” varies depending on who’s using it. For the purpose of this discussion, when I use “fracking,” I mean hydraulic fracturing in shales with horizontal drilling.

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The process of hydraulic fracturing.  © Melissa Reese.

This disagreement over something as simple as how to pronounce and spell the technique is a sign of just how entrenched and polarized the outlooks are for the shale revolution. And, like other earlier energy revolutions, the story has a particularly Texan flair to it.

Is shale production an economic miracle, or is it leaving some people and industries behind? Is fracking an environmental disaster or will it save the planet? It is hailed as the liberator from our dependence on foreign oil, but does it threaten to bind us even closer to the geopolitical volatility of international energy markets? The truth is a little more nuanced than shale promoters and detractors imply.

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