The New Ugliest Word

I think I know the ugliest word in the English language -- a neologism, actually, coined to describe the technique for pumping liquid at high pressure into rock to open up cracks so that natural gas will flow. It’s called hydraulic fracturing, shortened by engineers to hydro-fracking and by everyone else to fracking.

And here's the thing: When first we heard of it, many of us environmentalists were very hopeful. Natural gas, you see, is cleaner than coal. When you burn it, you release about half as much carbon into the atmosphere. So, faced with the greatest problem the planet has ever faced -- global warming -- here was widespread hope that the new supplies of natural gas the technique might unlock would serve as a "bridge fuel" that would fill in for coal and let us take a little more time developing renewable energy. The gas companies were even more thrilled -- they calculated that there were trillions of cubic feet of gas underneath American soil, particularly in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches along the Appalachians.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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