There are several steps to the hydraulic fracking process to extract natural gas, which is methane without the impurities. First, a thick, water-based fluid is injected into a coal bed and is pumped at a high rate of speed and pressure until the coal fractures, allowing the liquid to seep into the cracks. Sand or other propping agents (also known as ‘proppants’) are then pumped into the fracture to keep it open. Then, groundwater and some of the injected fracking fluids are pumped out from the fracture system. Because methane is adsorbed to the coal and is not actually found in the fractures of the coal beds, pumping allows the pressure to decrease enough so that methane can adsorb from the coal. The methane then flows out and is extracted from the production well.
Natural gas is not “methane without the impurities”. Methane is a natural gas. Most natural gas consists of methane and other gases. Most natural gas from coal beds is indeed mostly methane. The natural gas produced using hydraulic fracturing with much controversy in places like New York and Pennsylvania is not coal-bed methane for the most part. It is natural gas, of whatever composition, that is in low porosity and low permeability shales. Hydraulic fracturing breaks the rocks and makes the pores interconnected to allow the gas to flow, as kristennoelle described.
Fracking has been discussed extensively here. See the link for additional answers.
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