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The Frackers

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The Frackers

The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Bold entrepreneurs reshaped oil exploration with horizontal drilling and fracking – despite the controversy.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Reporter Gregory Zuckerman offers two books in one. He provides an overview of the fracking industry, explaining its chemistry and processing, and its role in US energy independence. He portrays the pivotal people who built fracking into a stand-alone energy giant. His compelling account reads like a vivid descriptive novel, intertwining history and science with intriguing profiles of the wildcatters, risk takers and oil executives who drove the fracking business through its rough, uncertain launch – with bankruptcy for some and billions for others. Zuckerman is alert to the concerns of environmentalists who oppose fracking, and contend that it causes pollution and, possibly, even earthquakes. Yet, he asserts – perhaps controversially – that “many of the environmental threats can be addressed or are over-stated.” While always neutral politically, getAbstract recommends this significant reporting achievement to entrepreneurs facing adversity and to anyone interested in the fracking industry, the history and politics of the energy industry, and the history of American business.


Wildcat Frackers

Hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” rocks by inserting various liquids at great pressure to force cracks open in underground rock so natural gas can flow and be extracted – is not new. Around 2007, wildcatters, an early 19th-century term for people who make high-risk business deals, supplemented the fracking process with new horizontal drilling techniques. Their technology allowed drilling crews to push 10,000 feet below the Earth’s surface and then to go another 4,000 feet sideways as they tried to tap into previously inaccessible shale rock containing oil and gas.

Edward A.L. Roberts came up with the idea of fracking during the US Civil War when he saw that mortar shells landing in a river created columns of water. After the war, Roberts applied his idea using nitroglycerine, which could be detonated sideways to break up rock. By 1869, a decade after the discovery of oil in Titusville, PA, his invention was profitable. By the 1930s, drillers tried a special machine gun, a “bazooka projectile” and, in the 1950s, even nuclear explosions.

In the early 21st century, the Continental Resources oil company bet heavily on the fracking process. It...

About the Author

Gregory Zuckerman is a special writer for The Wall Street Journal and the best-selling author of The Greatest Trade Ever.

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    A. D. 9 years ago
    Contrary to the above rating, I did NOT like this summary. (Was moving toward the east end of the scale when I heavy handed the mouse.) I don't understand how the book and review can completely dismiss the significant controversy around real and potential risks and damage done by fracking. This is a huge part of the story and it is completely ignored. Does fracking contaminate groundwater? Does it destabilize and cause or contribute to earthquakes? How damaging are the chemicals used to the environment? Brushing these questions aside as "overstated or can be addressed" is dismissive of genuine scientific concern regarding the health and safety of those in the area. And you say this is "non-political?" Hardly. Not addressing the concerns or evidence is highly political.