It is a timeless patchwork of small dairy farms and endless hills, emblazoned with the blood-red tints of an autumnal Pennsylvania forest. Set against this sleepy backdrop, however, the constant convoys of water trucks rumbling along the deserted country roads suggest something profound is taking place. This is ‘fracking’ country, the latest frontier in America’s desperate search for fossil fuels.
Pioneered by companies such as Halliburton, high-volume horizontal slickwater fracturing – otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, or simply fracking – involves the drilling of horizontal wells that are then injected with large volumes of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to open up rock fractures and help propel rock-trapped gas back to the surface. For landowners, those in the gas industry and governments of cash-strapped US states that find themselves sitting on the gas-rich lines of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, this new technique has opened up lucrative opportunities and created a rush unseen for decades. Vast reserves of previously untappable natural gas, perhaps in excess of 50 trillion cubic feet of gas, can now be extracted on US soil, and the arguments used by advocates of fracking seem impressive.
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