The American Petroleum Institute has chosen today to observe the 65th anniversary of frackinghydraulic fracturing of petroleum-bearing rocks. March 17, 1949, was the date of the patent granted to Halliburton for a novel process of opening up reservoir rocks by jamming them with high-pressure water and sand. The surge of water pressure fractures the rock, and the sand blown into the new cracks holds them open to let out the oil or gas. Here's the API's press release, and here's more detail on its Energy Tomorrow blog.
I am generally OK with hydraulic fracturing. The petroleum industry has powered a remarkable phase of civilization by producing high-quality energy sources and chemical feedstocks. Life as we know it today would be inconceivable without oil and gas. My opinion, as attentive readers should know by now, is that we need to move past our carbon-based energy system as fast as we can manage. Given that, I am OK with switching from coal-burning technology to less carbon-intensive technology. I am OK with moving away from the ghastly human costs of coal mining toward the milder side effects of petroleum production. Ultimately, I want coal and oil and gas to be valued for something other than just setting them aflame for a moment's heat.
Given human nature, I also favor the strictest feasible regulation and oversight of the industry, just as I do for mining in general. (I think the industry, in getting fracking fluids exempted from disclosure, overplayed its hand in a move that's backfired.) If the API opposes thatand they do resist expensive changesthen I think it's wrong. But I agree with the API that fracking is an elegant product of human ingenuity that is buying us time to cope with carbon.