The oil and gas industry has come under fire recently over the environmental impact of some of its extraction techniques for unconventional oil – such as shale gas and oil sands – but there are a number of alternatives out there.
Oil sands in particular have presented difficulties for the industry as a large amount of water – up to four gallons – needs to be used to to produce one gallon of oil in strip mining. In addition, steam injection requires a large amount of natural gas to be utilized, according to the New York Times.
Dr. Paul Painter, a professor of polymer science at Pennsylvania State University, thinks that ionic liquids – a salt that is still a liquid below the temperature at which water boils – could be a solution.
These liquids could potentially be used to separate oil from sand, which, as the name implies, is one of the major hurdles present in oil sands.
Other alternatives exist as well. Calgary-based E-T Energy, a private company, puts electrodes in wells surrounding the targeted well. These electrode wells are filled with water and heated up, thus warming the oil sands and allowing the resource to be extracted, reports the news source.
Companies have tried to come up with alternatives for the development of shale gas as well. Environmentalists and some politicians have come down on the fracking industry, claiming that fracking can pollute water – the U.S. Geological Survey and Duke University are currently testing these claims further, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
The industry has been looking to potential alternative ways to compose their fracking solutions. In fact, one Halliburton executive went so far as to take a sip of his companies new fluid – which is reportedly sourced with ingredients from the food industry.
In addition to being more environmentally friendly, uncovering alternative ways of extracting unconventional oil could give certain companies a leg up on the competition.