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What the frack is going on? UT study finds that fracking isn't to blame for water contamination

What the frack is going on? UT study finds that fracking isn't to blame for water contamination

Drillers out to find some natural gas in action using the "fracking" process.

Well here's your science lesson for today: What exactly is "fracking," aside from an alternative exclamation of contempt?

With the costly controversy surrounding oil and gas prices and where to source America's fuel, many scientists are turning to natural gas and conjuring up unconventional ways to discover where and how to locate this alternative. That's where hydraulic fracturing, aka "fracking," comes in.

"Fracking" is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock beneath the earth's surface. In order to accomplish this, untapped reserves are "horizontally drilled" into wells and then "proppants," a combination of high pressure, water, chemicals and sand, are released into the shale rock to form cracks.

The sand holds open the cracks, which allows the natural gas to flow through to the surface; the entire process can trap gas over hundreds of acres. If you didn't understand a word of that, check out this animation or "The Fracking Song." Either will help you better understand what the frack fracking is all about.

Because fracking involves gases, chemicals and groundwater (an alarming mixture), environmentalists are firing back and claiming that fracking won't just contaminate our drinking water, but will also pollute the air and cause myriad other health problems.

But a recent University of Texas study argues otherwise, and says there is no direct correlation between water contamination and fracking.

The evidence comes from The Energy Institute at UT Austin and its researchers, who have been studying shale rock and untapped reserves in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Texas. They say that the fracking process itself isn't the cause of contamination; it's external factors involved prior to the actual extraction of natural gas.

Casing failures, poor cement jobs, above-ground spills and mishandling of wastewater are included factors to blame, and any natural gas found in drinking wells can be traced to natural resources that were already present, the study says. 

Researchers continue to argue that fracking is a beneficial process to detect natural gas because it's an important energy source. Research at the Energy Institute will continue with two follow-up projects, one set for April on the study of water contamination in North Texas and another that's still under development involving an investigation into whether hydrological connectivity exists in shale rock during the fracking process.

What do you think of the study? Are you convinced?