For most people, the word "frack" (or "frak") entered their consciousness as a pseudo-profanity on "Battlestar Galactica." When fending off Cylon attacks, the battle-hardened Capricans could be counted on to utter many a "Frak!," "Holy Frak!," and "Motherfrakker!" (or words to that effect). At first, it was amusing. Then it kind of got annoying. Finally, it petered out into subliminality. Thankfully, it never seemed to catch on with the general public, in the way that, say, "Shazbot!" did after the heyday of "Mork and Mindy."
We were amused, therefore, to see "fracking" turn up in such respectable venues as The Nation and The New York Times. It has nothing to do with "Galactica," though. It's an abbreviation of "hydrofracturing": a technique for retrieving natural gas that involves injecting huge volumes of water and other chemicals into rocks in order to blast them apart so that the gas trapped within can be retrieved. It's a controversial technique, as the chemicals may sometimes contaminate local water supplies.
We imagine the technique--and therefore the word--existed before "Battlestar Galactica." But if the show lives on in reruns, and if the technique becomes as familiar to the general public as offshore drilling, we suspect that future generations of "Galactica" fans will assume the fake curse word was meant to conjure images of the environmentally unfriendly practice.