Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indian Baked Beans And American Natural Gas

This bean is an annual legume. The New York Times has an interesting article on the sudden demand from U.S. shale gas drillers for the guar bean grown in the arid state of Rajasthan. The bean powder is used in making fracking more effective.

Guar, a modest bean so hard that it can crack teeth, has become an unlikely global player, and dirt-poor farmers like Mr. Singh have suddenly become a crucial link in the energy production of the United States.

For centuries, farmers here used guar to feed their families and their cattle. There are better sources of nutrition, but few that grow in the Rajasthani desert, a land rich in culture but poor in rain. Broader commercial interest in guar first developed when food companies found that it absorbs water like a souped-up cornstarch, and a powdered form of the bean is now widely used to thicken ice cream and keep pastries crisp.

But much more important to farmers here was the recent discovery that guar could stiffen water so much that a mixture is able to carry sand sideways into wells drilled by horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking. 

The worry is that guar production in Rajasthan depends entirely on a good monsoon. So far this year rains have been deficient. Based on previous years surging sales, farmers have suddenly come into money and are spending freely. Hope the monsoons are normal this year too and one also hopes that poor farmers who have money to spend take sensible advice on managing their new found incomes.

A second worry and one for Indian agriculture is - will excessive demand for Guar, not just from the U.S., but from other countries including eventually from India start eating into farmland currently growing food crops?..Unless off course an alternative to Guar is found.. a possibility that Rajasthan farmers should also acknowledge and prepare for.

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