No, it isn't just an expletive from Battlestar Galactica. It is short for "hydraulic fracturing", the process of injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to displace natural gas, and it is evidently pretty much unregulated. According to NPR,
Environmentalists want the federal government to regulate the practice because, in some cases, fracking may be harming nearby water wells. The industry says regulation should be left up to the states.
And there is a lot of stuff in that water to increase its viscosity. According to Earthworks,
Hydraulic fracturing fluids contain toxic chemicals and are being injected into and near drinking water supplies. According to the EPA, toxic chemicals in fracturing fluids include substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; sodium hydroxide; and diesel fuel, which contains benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals. These chemicals have known negative health effects such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive impacts, impacts on the central nervous system, and cancer.
The industry isn't aware of any problems, and tells NPR:
"We have no evidence that hydraulic fracturing is causing problems," says Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Without evidence of problems, he says there's no reason to pile on more regulation.
"I think people need to have more faith in the regulatory agencies that are watching it very closely and their ability to respond to issues if they arise," says Fuller.
Right. But who can tell? Earthworks notes:
Most states' policies regarding hydraulic fracturing amount to "don't ask and don't tell." At the state level, most oil and gas agencies do not require companies to report the volumes or names of chemicals being injected during hydraulic fracturing, and they have never conducted any sampling to determine the underground or surface fate of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. Without that information, neither states nor the public can begin to eliminate the use of toxic materials, nor adequately evaluate or develop monitoring programs to assess the risks posed by injecting these fluids underground.
NPR details some complaints:
Steve Harris believes that pressure also ruined his well. He lives on 14 acres south of Dallas. Shortly after a driller fracked a nearby well, he and his neighbors noticed a change in water pressure.
"When you'd flush the toilet — in the back where the bowl is — water would shoot out the top of the bowl," says Harris.
When he took a shower, there was a foul odor, and the water left rashes on his grandson's skin. His horses stopped drinking from their trough, and there was an oily film on top of the water.
So here we have an industry pumping water into the ground to squeeze the last cubic yard of gas out of the ground, possibly draining the aquifer and contaminating the water, possibly causing health problems around the country, and nobody is even looking.