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Schematic depiction of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, showing main possible environmental effects.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", is a method used to increase the output of oil and natural gas wells. It supplements a conventional vertically-drilled well hole with two relatively new techniques: horizontal drilling in the hydrocarbon-rich layer, and fracturing of the rock by the injection of fluids into the well at very high pressure. These measures greatly increase the effective contact area of the well with the petroleum-bearing rock, the result being an increased rate of flow of gas or oil out of the rock and into the hole. The technique has opened up the possibility of exploiting vast regions of the earth's crust formerly considered not viable as oil or natural gas sources because although they contained petroleum, it was too tightly bound within the rock to be accessible by conventional means. Fracking is controversial for several reasons, mainly because of its environmental and health effects.

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