Fracking, fracing or fraccing?

 

    Most of us have heard of "hydraulic fracturing." It's a way to get fluids out of the ground by drilling a well, then pumping liquid under pressure down the hole. The liquid fractures nearby rocks, thereby releasing a substance (generally natural gas these days) that has been trapped in the rocks.
 
    "Hydraulic fracturing" is a mouthful, though, so naturally there's a shorter locution. The problem for us print journalists is how to spell the condensed version.
 
    Some go with fracing. That's short, but it makes it appear as though the term rhymes with tracing, when it actually rhymes with tracking.
 
    So I go with fracking, since it's pronounced that way. It also fits with the logic of our language, by analogy with trafficking or picnicking. That is, when you're constructing a gerund from a sequence of letters that ends in a hard c, you append a k before adding the ing.
 
    Granted, the terms frack and fracking have appeared on the television show Battlestar Gallactica as a polite substitute for another word that starts with f and ends with k, but the context should make it clear as to which meaning is intended.
 
    I have also heard from geologists who say they spell it fraccing, and one who says it's fracting with a silent t.
 
    As nearly as I can tell, there's no general agreement on how to spell fracking. Sometimes you even see it spelled different ways in the same publication.
 
    It should be noted that hydraulic fracturing is not the only way to frack. About 30 years go, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission attempted some big-time explosive fracturing on Colorado's Western Slope. It had the same goal as modern fracking -- releasing trapped natural gas -- but the Rulison Project involved an atomic bomb.
 
    The natural gas was too radioactive to be used, and there remains a controversy about how close modern operators should be allowed to drill.
 

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