The Times West Virginian

Headline News

February 4, 2013

Nontoxic fracking fluids developed

New product uses only food-industry ingredients for drilling process

PITTSBURGH — 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 new 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 questions.

The chemicals in fracking fluids aren’t the only environmental concern, said George Jugovic, president of PennFuture. He said there is also 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, has made it possible to tap into energy reserves across the nation but also has raised concerns about pollution, since large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected deep into the ground to free 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.

Both 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 added 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 also may 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 well in that state last year that used just water, sand and three additives in the fracking fluid.

But Engelder added that “green” and “toxic” can be “soft words without real meaning.” He noted that consumers, businesses and farms use vast quantities of chemicals that can contribute to pollution, from cleaners and s oaps to fertilizers and pesticides. Yet all those compounds are routinely flushed down the drain, ending up in nearby rivers and streams.

“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.”

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Everest avalanche kills at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak. Several more were injured.

    April 19, 2014

  • Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads