Fracking. The mere utterance of the word thrills investors in energy companies making big oil and gas finds in shale deposits in Texas, the Appalachians and North Dakota.

It makes environmentalists shudder because it involves so many unknowns.

But make no mistake: Fracking is a big deal. It has allowed oil and gas companies to develop on-land oil and gas prospects that almost no one had thought could be brought to market with any hope of profitability. It’s one of the primary factors for the resurgence in U.S. production of natural gas and crude oil that’s bringing the country closer to the long-sought goal of energy independence.