So you’ve heard the term hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in various news headlines on the environment, and maybe even heard of Matt Damon’s new film on fracking called Promised Land. But what is fracking?

Hydraulic fracking is a hot topic for environmentalists today. As defined by ProPublica, is the release of natural gas through the process of pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals at a high pressure underground, resulting in a breaking of rock and release of gas. The drilled wells can go as far as 10,000 feet underground.

Hydraullic fracking practices are under much debate today. Those who support fracking claim the methods are safe, and that switching out coal plants with natural gas plants can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or more. These individuals believe that fracking can reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign fuel. Others think that hydraulic fracking can buy our nation some time until we can develop renewable sources of energy. Others are advocates of hydraulic fracking because it currently employs more than 1.2 million people in the U.S and continues to create jobs.

Some environmental activists have very different opinions on hydraulic fracking. Although natural gas has less carbon emissions than coal, when gas is extracted from shale, other greenhouse gas emissions can escape into the atmosphere. When wells are built for fracking, some methane, a greenhouse gas, can be released into the atmosphere. According to Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell, the footprint created by shale gas is at least 20% greater than that of coal. Many oppose hydraulic fracking because it requires a lot of water and creates a lot of wastewater. There is also a concern over water contamination from fracking. There have been instances of polluted drinking water, surface water, air, and soil.

Another concern by environmentalists is the hundreds of chemicals that are used in the fracking process, which are combined with water and pumped at high pressures underground. Companies are not required to disclose the chemicals that they use. Some of the chemicals that are known to be used in the process include carcinogens and hazardous materials. Currently instances of water contamination are being investigated to see if they are caused by hydrualic fracking.

To learn more about hydraulic fracking, the benefits, and the impacts it can have on the environment, check out the resources for this article below.

Should the U.S. continue with hydraulic fracturing? What do you think?