Industry attempts to clean up fracking
The oil and gas industry is trying to ease environmental concerns by developing nontoxic fluids for the drilling process known as fracking, but it's not clear whether the product will be widely embraced by drilling companies.
Houston-based energy giant Halliburton Inc. has developed a product called CleanStim, which uses only food-industry ingredients. Other companies have developed nontoxic fluids as well.
“Halliburton is in the business to provide solutions to our customers,” said production manager Nicholas Gardiner. “Those solutions have to include ways to reduce the safety or environmental concerns that the public might have.”
Environmental groups say they welcome the development but still have concerns.
The chemicals in fracking fluids aren't the only environmental concern, said George Jugovic, president of environmental advocacy group PennFuture. He said there is concern about the large volumes of naturally occurring but exceptionally salty wastewater and air pollution.
It's premature to say whether it will ever be feasible to have fluids for fracking that are totally nontoxic, said Scott Anderson, a senior adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“But we are encouraged to some extent by recent industry efforts to at least reduce the toxicity,” Anderson said.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, made it possible to tap into energy reserves across the nation but has raised concerns about pollution, because large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected deep into the ground to release the oil and gas from rock.
Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research on those issues. The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly, but faulty wells and accidents have caused problems.
Halliburton says CleanStim will provide “an extra margin of safety to people, animals and the environment in the unlikely occurrence of an incident” at a drilling site.
Gardiner said Halliburton has developed a chemistry-scoring system for the fluids, with lower scores being better. CleanStim has a zero score, he said, and is “relatively more expensive” than many traditional fracking fluids.
Jugovic and Anderson noted that one of the most highly publicized concerns about toxic fracking fluids hasn't really been an issue: the suggestion that they might migrate from thousands of feet underground, up to drinking water aquifers.
“Most people agree there are no confirmed cases so far” of fracking chemicals migrating up to drinking water, Anderson said. But he noted that simple spills of fluid on the surface can cause problems.
“The most likely of exposure is not from the fracking itself. It is from spills before the fracking fluid is injected,” Anderson said.
There could be technical and cost issues that limit the acceptance of products such as CleanStim.
There is tremendous variation in the type of shale rock in different parts of the country. For example, drillers use different fluids even within the same state, and the specific mix can play a large role in determining how productive a well is.
Gardiner wouldn't say how widely used CleanStim is.
“The customers who do use it certainly like the material,” he added.
Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State University, said he visited a Pennsylvania well last year that used just water, sand and three additives in the fracking fluid.
“Eventually industry would like to end up with a mix of just water, sand, and food-grade additives,” Engelder said of fracking. “Companies are learning to deal with fewer and fewer additives.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ghostly snailfish found at record depth
- Gray wolf decision reversed
- Replacement part beamed up to space station
- Traffic camera use upheld in Ohio
- Traffic deaths down 3 percent
- Supreme Court won’t stop gay marriages in Florida
- Attorney General Holder, Justice Department target bias against transgender employees
- FBI’s 2001 anthrax attack investigation questioned
- Tax-break extensions await Senate approval this week
- Hawaii lava could reach gas station, stores
- West Virginia man dies after being shot with arrow in Wellsburg