President’s Column – February 2013

Title: What is this fracking stuff?

Author: Debra Higley

Publication: The Outcrop, February 2013, p. 4-5

A few years ago if I told someone that I was a geologist the usual rejoinder was, “oh, you  just have a good rock collection.” Now it is “what is this fracking stuff” or “I’m not going to let you drill here”…


A friend of mine was railing on about oil companies destroying aquifers and that fracking is ruining the environment, so we discussed the topic and I sent him oil and gas information and video sites. He didn’t look at them. How does one combat all of the misinformation on energy and other resources? We are essentially mining petroleum from reservoirs and water from aquifers, but the open tap for resources that consumers tend to take for granted comes with exploration, development, production, and the entire associated infrastructure. Most of the flashy oil company commercials on TV really don’t add much. I wish they would take the 30 seconds and provide more than cute images of molecules and employees. At the USGS we assess oil and gas resources and conduct research for basins across the U.S. and the World; knowledge of how much petroleum is recoverable and from where is critical to our national infrastructure. Associated fact sheets and other USGS publications are available on the web (including some at We endeavor to write these to a broad audience that ranges from the public to fellow scientists, industry, and organizations, but it is not easy because people are commonly unfamiliar with earth science, the world beneath our feet.

The Colorado Geological Survey ( is a great source of information that includes publications, data, and videos on petroleum, water, and mineral resources, and geologic hazards; included are sites for students and teachers. Two video sources of information on energy use and resources are “Truthland” (, which was recommended by Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance, and Scott Tinker’s “Switch” movie on energy sources and usage across the world. “Switch” ( is quite balanced and very interesting. The RMAG publications, talks, short courses, symposia, and networking opportunities also help to keep us informed. The bottom line is that it falls to all of us to provide information on our science through our careers and volunteering at schools and other venues.

On another topic, The RMAG Mountain Geologist will be provided to you in digital format starting in 2013. Primary reasons are cost savings to RMAG, authors, and advertisers; digital-only color images cost the same as black and white. Also, for many or most of us, digital publications are easier to store and access than paper copies. I will admit that using less paper is important as well; at home and work I recycle and compost (also known as the squirrel buffet).

Fracking, frac’ing or fracing? The editors could not come to agreement, is fracking too much like an expletive? Has the industry lost the battle by using these terms and spellings? Does this even matter? Should we care how we spell it? Give us your thoughts.