Frack fluids get a do-over

Halliburton is trying to ease environmental concerns by developing non-toxic fluids for the drilling process known as fracking. But it’s not clear whether the fluids will be widely embraced by drilling companies. Enlarge photo

David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo

Halliburton is trying to ease environmental concerns by developing non-toxic fluids for the drilling process known as fracking. But it’s not clear whether the fluids will be widely embraced by drilling companies.

PITTSBURGH – The natural-gas and oil 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 gas and oil 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.