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Near Bowden, Alta., Trican Well Services is pumping water, chemical and natural additives, and nitrogen down a well at frighteningly high pressure, with hopes of forcing fissures in the rocks thousands of metres below the surface. Sand will follow, propping open the cracks, allowing trapped oil to escape. The process is called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

A worker walks past the wellhead at a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., about 100 kilometres north of Calgary.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Workers assemble for a morning safety meeting prior to the start of a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Trican Well Service employees work around liquid nitrogen storage tanks at a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Trican Well Service employees walk toward liquid nitrogen storage tanks at a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Sand that will be pumped down a shaft during the hydraulic fracturing process at an operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Darren Sanregret, a project manager with NAL Resources, holds fracturing balls that have been pushed through the ground in the hydraulic fracturing process near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Tim Irons, a quality control technician, checks the state of fluid that will be pumped into the ground during the hydraulic fracturing process at an operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Workers assemble high-pressure pipe at hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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NAL Resources managers discuss a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Trican Well Service employees monitor the hydraulic fracturing process from an onsite control centre near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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Trican Well Service employees monitor the hydraulic fracturing process from an onsite control centre near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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A pump jack draws oil from the ground near a hydraulic fracturing operation near Bowden, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012.Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail

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