Is hydraulic fracturing due for yet another innovation? A report from Canada suggests that hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” might be utilized without needing water. The new process relies on propane (in a gel form) to release the gas from the shale its trapped in underground. If you’re unfamiliar with the fracking process, this is a good overview:
Essentially a combination of water, sand, and chemical lubricants are shot deep into the ground to break up the shale and release the gas, which flows back up to the surface. One issue that environmentalists have is that the water that comes back up from the well is contaminated, and either has to be sent to a water treatment facility to be cleaned or injected back underground.
The advantage of propane would be that a number of the chemicals that rise to the surface (when water is used) would remain underground, lowering the chance of polluting local aquifers or spilling above ground.
As the article points out, this technique is still in its infancy and might not be widely adopted or used due to cost considerations and effectiveness. Nonetheless, if it works, it would be a welcome alternative to the complete ban on fracking that some areas of the United States have embraced.
Naturally, some anti-fracking activists will oppose it no matter what, though as the process becomes safer these groups are pushed towards the sidelines.