Induced hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, is a technique used to make fractures in shale beds, normally deep underground, through the injection of liquids under high pressure. The idea is to release oil or gas. Fracking has transformed the oil industry by allowing vast reserves to be tapped.
Although the main ingredient of the fracking liquid is water, it is also necessary to include sand and a gelling agent to increase the viscosity of the liquid and bind in the sand. The commonest gelling agent is guar gum, a gel made from powdered guar seeds, which are grown in the semi-desert regions of India and Pakistan. Guar gum is also widely used in the food industry as a binding, thickening, texturising and moisture control agent.
With the rapid growth in fracking, especially in the USA, the demand for guar gum has rocketed – and so has its price. In just one year the price of guar beans, from which the seeds are extracted, has risen ten fold from about 30 rupees (about 34 pence) to around 300 rupees per kilo. This has transformed the lives of many poor farmers. Across the desert belt of north-west India, fields are being planted with guar.
But will it last? What will the oil and gas extraction companies do in response to the higher price? What will the food industry do? What will happen to the demand and supply of guar gum over the longer term? Is it risky for farmers in India and Pakistan to rely on a single crop, or should they take advantage of the high prices while they last? These types of questions are central to many mono-crop economies.
The little green bean in big fracking demand CNN, Mallika Kapur (10/9/12)
Frackers in frantic search for guar bean substitutes Reuters, Braden Reddall (13/8/12)
After first-half surge, US drillers find respite in guar wars Reuters (20/7/12)
Guar Gum Exports From India to Drop on Halliburton Stocks BloombergBusinessweek, Prabhudatta Mishra (3/9/12)
Frackers Seek Guar Bean Substitutes The Ithaca Independent, Ed Sutherland (13/8/12)
Synthetic Fracking Ingredient to Replace Guar Bean Greener Ideas, Madison E. Rowe (15/8/12)
From emu farms to guar crops: Why the desert is fertile for Ponzi schemes The Economic Times of India, Vikram Doctor (10/9/12)
Guar gum replacer cuts cost by up to 40% Food Manufacture, Lorraine Mullaney (4/9/12)
Less Guar Needed: TIC Gums Introduces Ticaloid Lite Powder TIC Gums (27/8/12)
Immediate Supply of Guar Gum Available in the US PRLog (1/9/12)
- Why have guar bean, powder and gum prices risen so rapidly? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate your answer.
- How is the price elasticity of supply of guar likely to differ between the short term and the long term? What will be the implications of this for guar prices and the livelihood of guar growers?
- How is the price elasticity of demand for guar likely to differ between the short term and the long term? What will be the implications of this for guar prices and the livelihood of guar growers?
- What would you advise guar growers to do and why?
- What is the role of speculation in determining the price of guar?
- What is a ‘ponzi scheme’? Why is the ‘desert so fertile for ponzi schemes’? (Note that the symbol for a rupee is Rs or ₹, that 100,000 rupees are referred to as 1 Lakh and that 100 Lakh are referred to as 1 Crore.)