MARIETTA - Hoping to improve public opinion and address concerns from environmental groups about the process of hydraulic fracturing, those in the oil and gas industries are taking steps toward improving the liquids used in fracking.
The Associated Press reported that Halliburton Inc., a Houston-based energy company, has introduced a product called CleanStim, which uses food-based products instead of typically hazardous biocides to break up bacteria that is susceptible to growing in underground wells.
"Looking at what I've seen so far, it is definitely an improvement over what they have been using," said Parkersburg resident Pavanne Pettigrew, who worked as a senior geologist with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston for 17 years where she developed and administered the Underground Injection Control program for coal mining.
However, said Pettigrew, she would like to see the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product before throwing her full support behind the idea.
The MSDS is a legal document that lists all the materials in a given product and their hazardous potential, said Pettigrew. All products made or imported into the United States, including CleanStim, are required to have one.
Even without the MSDS, Pettigrew said she does not doubt Halliburton's claims that the ingredients are entirely food-based.
"You don't want to jump to too many conclusions there, though. Believe me, there are a lot of things we willingly eat that are technically hazardous," she said.
Halliburton will not be the only company striving to eliminate hazardous biocides entirely, said Jim Denny, president and chief operating officer for Triad Hunter, which is currently breaking ground on an injection well near Macksburg.
"We are even looking at going our own path to develop an all benign fluid," he said.
Halliburton's product is limited by certain factors, such as temperature and formations being fracked, said Denny, and therefore it was not a good fit for drilling operations overseen by Triad Hunter's parent company in Texas.
However, it is possible the product will be used locally. Testing at the new well will determine if it fits the bill for local Utica and Marcellus shale wells, he said.
Petroleum Development Corp. (PDC) Energy, a Denver-based company that also has wells in Washington, Morgan and Belmont Counties, did not return calls for comment Thursday.
The fact that companies are hearing and addressing public concerns is good news for local environmental groups.
"We feel very positive that they are trying to do research to make this whole process more safe," said Betsy Cook, a member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group (SEOFIG).
Still, said Cook, there are concerns as to whether companies will embrace the new liquid.
"The main thing I see of course is that it is more expensive. Are companies going to use it?" she asked.
Denny said the cost is not the main concern of drilling companies.
"The impact on production is much more a consideration than the cost of the fluid," he said.
And even if the industry fully embraces nontoxic fluids, there are still concerns that the process of hydraulic fracturing triggers man-made tremors and eliminates large quantities of water from the water supply, said Pettigrew.
"This does seem to address that one problem, of what chemicals are being put into the ground, but it doesn't do a thing to alleviate possible earthquakes or address the usability of post-fracking waste," she said.