Global Politics

Why Guar Beans Matter

bean-guar-wiki.jpg

Guar beans (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Guar beans were in the news this week.

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The Halliburton Company said its profits dropped recently because of a shortage of the legume, which is mostly grown in India.

Guar beans are turned into guar gum, which is used in Halliburton's hydraulic fracturing operations. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is the controversial method used to drill for deep natural gas deposits.

The guar news left us wondering about what exactly guar beans and guar gum are.

We spoke with Patrick Di Justo, who writes the monthly "What's Inside" column for Wired magazine. He said that guar gum is used in food as a thickening agent, very much like corn starch, but that it also has other, non-food uses. "It can be used as a lubricant in drilling," he said, "because while it's used as a thickener in ice cream, guar gum is less thick than mud. So as they drill through rock and mud, guar gum being less thick, actually works as a lubricant."

We also spoke with David Biello, Associate Editor for Environment & Energy at Scientific American magazine, about how something as small as a guar bean can have a large impact on a big industrial process such as hydraulic fracking.

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