Can Fracking Ever Be Green?

Gas line. (Image: Pixabay/ CC0 Public Domain )
Gas line. (Image: Pixabay/ CC0 Public Domain )

Can fracking ever be green? That is the question.

A new hydraulic fluid has been created for the fracking process.

It changes into an expandable hydrogel when it interacts with carbon dioxide. Researchers believe the process will be enough to fracture rock.

Using hydrogel should reduce the amount of chemical additives and water that are required for hydraulic fracturing.


Proposed fracking method using hydrogel. (Image: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

The research paper was published in the journal Green Chemistry, and has created talk among scientists as to whether even with this promising technology, fracking could ever be considered green.

A team led by Carlos A. Fernandez of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed the process, which would involve pumping an aqueous solution of polyallylamine into the ground followed by CO2. The CO2 interacts with the polymer’s amine groups and water to form a hydrogel that expands to more than twice its volume, creating pressure for fracking. The researchers showed that this expansion could break rock samples in the lab. Releasing the CO2 pressure or adding a weak acid breaks the hydrogel, C&EN wrote.

Facts about fracking from SciShow:

“This paper is particularly strong in that the researchers evaluated the performance in rock at realistic conditions,” says Philip G. Jessop of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, whose group has helped lead development of the switchable chemistry concept.

“Fracking is understandably not well loved in the green chemistry community, and whether green chemistry can or should be brought to bear to decrease fracking’s impact is highly controversial,” Jessop adds. “The researchers give reasonable arguments for why their fluid would be green, but that point won’t be decided definitively until a cradle-to-grave life-cycle analysis is used to fully compare the environmental impacts with conventional fluids.”

Walter Leitner of RWTH Aachen University, the editorial board chair for Green Chemistry, wrote an editorial on why the editors’ weren’t sure whether to publish the paper. “One may raise the fundamental question of whether an increased exploitation of fossil resources is inherently incompatible with the Principles of Green Chemistry,” Leitner wrote.

“We need to continue our efforts to contribute with fundamentally new approaches to a sustainable chemical industry,” Leitner continues. “However, we also recognize that things are not always black or white, and there are more than 50 shades of green.”

I’m not a fan of fracking, but if it has to go on, at least we can try to minimize the impact.

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