Is it fracking or fracing?

Hydraulic fracturing has become a hotbed of controversy, but so has its nickname — fracking.

The origin of the “fracking” moniker is far more innocuous than its current use in certain circles, as a kind of expletive. Battlestar Galactica used “fracking” as a surrogate for the more popular F-word.

But before it made national headlines, sparked rallies or was used in television shows, it went by a different name. Or, more accurately, a different spelling:

“Fracing.” One C. No K.

A few folks, seeking to clarify the pronunciation, used “fraccing.” Two Cs. No K.

Barnett Shale-based blogger and activist Sharon Wilson recently set out to track down the founder of “fracking.” Wilson eventually fingered Lisa Sumi as the originator of the K-based spelling. In 2004, Sumi joined Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. She took on a research report about the then-relatively unrenowned method for extracting oil and natural gas.

The documents she read about hydraulic fracturing shortened the term to “fracing.”

“In my own head, I immediately started spelling it with a K,” she said. “It rhymed with cracking. For me it was purely grammatical.”

Sumi said it took her two years to convince the folks at Earthworks to add a K to their spelling of the term. She had no idea the K would become a political powder keg.

As public awareness of hydrofracturing has gained popularity, so has that alternate spelling and the political rancor around the K.

Stalwarts cling to tradition, saying “fracking” sounds too much like a curse word and has been made into the rallying cry of environmentalist opponents. But many in the oil and gas industry have accepted linguistic authority and switched spellings.

Meanwhile, the public has developed a clear preference. A Google search for “fracking” turns up more than 8 million results, even more than “hydraulic fracturing,” which turns up 2.2 million.

Not only does “fracing” fall far behind, with just 628,000 results. Google insists you’ve misspelled your search:

“Did you mean: fracking?”