Printable Version
Pronunciation: fræk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To fracture rock surrounding a well to increase the flow of oil or gas. This is accomplished by injecting large amounts of liquid under high pressure into cracks in the rock in order to split them open.

Notes: Fracking has been staying in the news, so I decided it was time to bring it up. Interest in the gas reserves in the US has risen recently with the applications of fracking, which allows profitable amounts of gas to be extracted from shale. Arkansas, however, where the practice is well under way, has suffered 800 earthquakes in 2011 and evidence points to the fracking as the cause of them.

In Play: Earthquakes are not the only unpleasant side effects of fracking: "Les Burnham thinks that fracking behind his house is the reason he can ignite the water coming from the faucets in his house." Although this is a fairly new word in English, I can already think of new ways to use it: "The ice has fracked my driveway over the years to the point that it is disintegrating."

Word History: Today's topical word is a clipping of the verb fracture. Since fracking expands fractures that are already in rock, the gas and oil industries needed a different term to refer to expanding those fractures. Breaking off a piece of fracture was the best they could come up with. Fracture itself came to English from Latin fractura "a break" via French fracture. The Latin noun was made from the past participle, fractus, of the verb frangere "to break", with the Fickle N we have seen in many other words. The Latin verb comes from the Proto-Indo-European root bhreg- "break", which also survived in Old Germanic to become German brechen and English break.

Dr. Goodword,

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