Cranial Fracking

There are gems, and then there are the real gems.  This is from a New Yorker‘s “Shouts & Murmurs” section written by Ian Frazier. I love this type of elaborate, detail filled comedy writing.


Recently, I signed a lease with a major oil company allowing it to begin “cranial fracking” – deep drilling to tap the vast reserves of natural gas found in the human head.  These reserves are not distributed uniformly in all individuals.  In my case, however, a gas-rich formation known as the Jersey Deposit runs from behind my eyebrows to beneath my bald spot and then angles downward to the point of my chin.  According to the prospecting crews, this cranial structure holds enough CH4 (methane) to power all ofNew Englandfor twenty to fifty years.  When this bonanza was discovered, oil-company representatives came to me hoping to lock in permanent and exclusive extraction rights for a fee that was truly eye-popping (although that may also have been a result of seismic “thumper trucks” they used).

As the details were explained, I wished I had paid more attention during the brief cranial section of my earth-sciences classes in high school.  Apparently, back in the Silurian period, some four hundred and thirty-eight million years ago, my head was completely covered by a shallow inland sea.  In time the sea receded and a swampy Carboniferous growth sprang up.  In the resultant ooze, distinct parietal ridges appeared, trapping some of the carbon.  Ages passed, I was officially born, there was the difficult year in kindergarten, and very slowly, under extreme pressure, valuable gas was formed.  I have suspected its existence since about the fourth grade.  I was hammering a nail into my nostril, just to see what would happen, as kids will do, when suddenly there was a tremendous explosion that sent the nail and the hammer flying and injured a neighbor in his yard across the street.  After that, I knew that I was different, although I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be.  But now like thousands of similar people, I count myself lucky to possess this resource.

Getting at it has always been the hard part.  With some guys (and most of those whose heads contain the Jersey Deposit formation are men, curiously), a gas seep rises clear to the surface of the head.  Then all that the extraction workers have to do is part the hair (where there is hair) and screw in a well cap and valve directly into the skull.  With me and others like me, however – no so easy.  First, entry sites must be established just at the front of each ear, where the overburden is shallow and the head is narrowest.  Then multidirectional diamond-tipped drills bore through the obstructing bone until they reach the remote inner levels, where the richest concentrations of gas lie hidden.  Often, this is a hit-or-miss process.  A moment’s inattention on the part of the drilling technician, who is sitting in his apartment and also checking his e-mail, can cause mistakes.  The bit may emerge unexpectedly, scattering skull fragments, and plunge onward through one’s hat or glasses, as has happened on more than one occasion to me, I am sorry to say.

Quite honestly, the whole process hurts like bloody hell.  After the drill has reached the gas deposits, contained in thousands of tiny pockets no more than a few molecules across, the surrounding bone must be microscopically shattered to free them.  This is done by backing out the drill, taping on a small firecracker, lighting it, shoving it back in the well bore, and shouting, “Fire in the hole!”  After a muffled sound, smoke comes out, sometimes accompanied by bits of teeth and brain lining, depending on how accurately the charge has been shaped.  I don’t have to tell you that this is the moment when I must keep our country’s energy future in mind in order to withstand this horrible agony.  Also, unavoidably, some of the gas escapes before the well can be capped and hooked into the distribution network.  Cranial gas is itself a very potent agent of climate change, and my own, as it turns out, is considerable worse than most.

A stream of surfactant at very high p.s.i. is then shot back into the well bore to flush it, and then the fluid is sealed up permanently in skull chambers, sometimes causing temporary dizziness and nausea.  This fluid-containment system insures that nothing will ever come out, although in the unlikely (but not uncommon) event that it does migrate into your mouth, it tastes like pineapple.  Reports have said that a flammable facial exudate possibly also results from this process, though no connection has been found.

Until the past few years, none of the technologies I’ve described were available.  If you had a head full of top-grade crude, you simply went to the squasher and, 0ne-two, you were done.  Back then nobody bothered about utilizing other cranial hydrocarbons, because there was no need.  Today, the equipment is so sophisticated that it can find a single molecule of gas in a head of almost solid bone, like Senator Inhofe’s.  However, I am no blind to the controversies – that is, when the pumping mechanism is working properly and I am not blind for other reasons.  I know that people have made negative comments, which are right, but they are not the ones who know about this personally and are getting paid.  Yes, everything now tastes like pineapple to me, and there’s the pain, and I have these Christmas-tree valve arrays that make it impossible to fly on air-planes, and my pores combust spontaneously if I don’t keep the moistened towels on, but I recommend the procedure without reservation.

The only thing I would say is, if you are thinking of putting your signature on the cranial-gas lease agreement, it’s best to wait until your kids are grown and out of the house.  If you have a spouse or domestic partner, separate, and obtain a divorce if necessary.  You will want to spend all your time in a corrugated-metal building with an oil-soaked earthen floor.  Find a good oil-patch lawyer and have him begin proceeding against you as a preventative measure.  Direct wire transfer of lease monies to the Caymans is the only way to go.  And here’s a secret: guy wires.  Attached from your head to the building’s rafters, they provide neck support that feels wonderful.  You will thank me down the road.

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