Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the most important energy industry development in the past few decades, unlocking value for U.S. natural gas companies.
Its extensive use in the United States is completely reshaping the world energy scene.
But there is one question that lingers over the U.S. energy industry: Is fracking safe?
One of those saying fracking is 100% safe is sometimes controversial oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens.
He went on his first frack job in 1952 and recently told Yahoo!'s Daily Ticker he's never had any environmental issues with the over 2,000 wells he's fracked over the years.
Pickens said, "Nobody gives any evidence you're damaging anything."
Pickens says the U.S. has the cheapest energy on the planet thanks to fracking. He adds that the country could actually become energy independent, but likely won't because of a "lack of leadership" in our nation's capital.
He believes the U.S. should be moving quickly to an economy based on natural gas as a key fuel. Pickens points to the conversion of 18-wheeler trucks to run on natural gas as an example. He says trucking firms could save $60,000 a year on fuel costs per truck.
But that is unlikely to happen as long as fracking has the 'cloud' of environmental controversy hanging over it.
The Fracking Safety Issues
Many environmentalists say fracking has damaged the environment (particularly the water supply) and caused earthquakes in places like Youngstown, OH and Prague, OK.
A report published by the journal Geology a few months ago stated that deep underground drilling in Oklahoma had led to a significant rise in seismic activity. The main concern is with wastewater from fracking that is put into subterranean injection wells.
At the other end of the argument, the oil and gas industry says fracking techniques have been used for over half a century with no adverse effects.
This debate is occurring right now in the state of California, as highlighted by the recent Money Morning Fight Club article on fracking California's massive Monterey Shale formation.
California is in desperate fiscal straits and needs the money to be gained by fracking. Permitting fracking in the Monterey will net the state a $25 billion tax windfall, not to mention the jobs added.
But, as pointed out in the Money Morning story, environmental groups have a lot of power in the state and are reluctant to let fracking proceed.
Water seems to be a main point of contention at the moment.
Fracking a shale gas well of average depth requires from 4-6 million gallons of water, according to a report from the National Petroleum Council (NPC) in 2011. The NPC is an advisory group to the U.S. government composed of both energy industry and environmental representatives.
This makes the industry middling as far as overall water usage. The Financial Times points out that when looking at water usage per unit of energy production, shale gas production is more efficient than getting energy from other sources such as coal mining.
Industry Developing "Green" Fracking Fluids
For its part, the energy industry is trying to meet the environmental concerns head on by developing so-called "green" fracking fluids…