Many residents of Clintonville, Wis. are at their wits end after four days of unexplained loud booms, some in the middle of the night. The booms sound like thunder, fireworks or a door slam, but can’t be attributed to any of these, the Associated Press reports. So what’s causing it?

A worried resident ask questions at a public meeting with city officials at Clintonville High School Wednesday. (Ron Page/AP)

Speculations by experts and Clintonville residents are all over the map. A short laundry list of guesses includes nearby military exercises; earthquake fault lines; problems in the water, sewer or gas lines; mining explosives; a coming sinkhole; the spontaneous explosion of gas at a landfill; or water seeping out of granite below the ground. So far, those conjectures haven’t turned up anything.

But the most recurring guess from readers isn’t on that list.

“FRACKING?” a commenter wrote earlier this morning. “Funny that it's happened since fracking started,” wrote another later on. Dozens of readers on other sites wrote that they, too, thought fracking could be to blame.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. And yes, sometimes it causes loud noises. But the idea that fracking is causing the booms is unlikely, if not impossible.

Here’s why: Fracking is a process that gets energy from shale, a fine-grained sedimentary rock. Wisconsin is on the very edge of a shale gas basin, but not near a major shale gas “play.” An Energy Information Administration map of shale gas basins in North America clearly shows this. Neighboring Illinois and Iowa have a shale basin, but Clintonville is located in central Wisconsin, nowhere near fracking sites in bordering states.


Dan Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress says that even if nearby fracking was the cause, the source of the noise would have been clear to Clintonville residents.

“Fracking causes a significant surface disruption that would be evident,” Weiss told BlogPost in an e-mail. “There would be numerous trucks carrying in equipment, pipes, and other drilling equipment. There would be noisy, smelly diesel powered generators providing surface electricity. There would be dozens of people working at the site. In addition, it seems unlikely that a company would only frack in the evening and not during the day.”

“Fracking, the new aliens,” another commenter wrote.