How Fracking Affects You

Can fracking make you rich? Can it make you sick? Does it cause earthquakes? Read on. And don’t miss Suzanna Andrews’s profile of environmental activist Sharon Wilson--read it here

by Nanette Varian • executive features editor { View Profile }
gas rig image
Photograph: Courtesy of Calin Tatu/

Natural gas has been “fracked”—released by fracturing shale rock with pressurized water—since the 1940s. But with the recent addition of a powerful new horizontal drilling technology, fracking has boomed, along with hopes for America’s energy independence. There are an estimated 665 trillion cubic feet of “technically recoverable” shale gas under our feet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the White House boasts that domestic oil and natural gas production has “increased every year since President Obama has been in office,” adding that in 2012, “natural gas production reached an all-time high.” (Click here for a map of U.S. shale "plays.") But while few people would argue against the concept of an abundant domestic fuel source, some feel the fracking “gold rush” is being encouraged without enough research into its effects on health, land and the environment. The practice has been banned in France and Bulgaria, and has triggered protests in other nations. Here, answers to some frequently asked questions:

Can fracking make me rich? Some homeowners have earned hefty signing bonuses and a regular royalty income for allowing extraction on their land. According to an article on the trade site Oil & Gas Monitor, signing bonuses in shale-rich Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia, for example, leapt from $2 to $5 per acre, prior to 2000, to $5,000 to $10,000 per acre by 2012. Royalties—a percentage of the income earned from extracted gas—are paid monthly or quarterly.


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