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Fracking FAQ: The science and technology behind the natural gas boom

You're fracked

"Fracking": It sounds more like a comic-book exclamation (kapow! boom! frack!) than a controversial method for extracting natural gas and oil from rock deep underground. By turns demonized as a catastrophic environmental threat and glorified as a therapy for our foreign oil addiction, fracking has become a flashpoint in our national energy policy.

First developed in the 1940s, fracking -- literally, "hydraulic fracturing," or "smashing rock open with lots of water" -- only began to boom around 2005, but today, it's used in nine out of every 10 natural gas wells in the U.S. As many as 35,000 wells are fracked each year [PDF], according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And shale gas (often fracked) now accounts for 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas production, up from virtually nil a few years ago.

Scientists assure us that fracking can be done safely -- at least in theory. They are still working to understand the long-term implications of using this technology at large scale in the real world, however, where things spill, accidents happen, and people have their health, homes, schools, airports, groundwater, and even cemeteries to worry about.

We know scientists aren't the only ones looking for answers. So below, we tackle six key questions about fracking.

1. How does fracking work?

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Gas prices explained by way of a neighborhood barbecue

As a summer pastime, griping about rising gas prices ranks right up there with backyard grilling.  Summer 2012 was slated to be a nonstop kvetching session: In spring, experts were predicting we’d pay $4 a gallon by season’s end.

Instead, in a repeat of a now common summer experience, prices dropped. Americans were left to grouse about a jump to a national average of just $3.42 for the month of July.

Why do we get this so wrong so often? To answer that, you have to learn how gas prices really work.

Read more: Climate & Energy