Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- has won the approval of California voters who weighed in on a referendum that would have banned the practice from implementation in that state's Monterey shale. But a powerful new production technique called 'acidizing' may edge fracking out in California.
"Like Canada's tar sands, the Monterey Shale contains mostly heavy oil that requires a lot of energy and effort to get out of the ground and refine," said Next Generation research analyst Robert Collier. "But unlike other shales, the Monterey is riddled with fractures and folds created by California's highly active tectonic zones – so oil companies working the Monterey say it may require a different approach than traditional fracking."
Not much is known about acidization for shale oil production, but the oil industry has already been experimenting with the technique that pumps a solution of hydrofluoric acid into the shale in order to dissolve the rock that separates the oil deposits underground. But a lack of transparency in California's oil industry has state officials asking for more information.
"California's oil industry is relatively secretive and highly competitive, which means our elected officials aren't fully informed about the implications of developing the Monterey Shale," said Kate Gordon, Vice President and Director of the Energy and Climate Program at Next Generation. "What we've found is that, under current regulations, the oil industry doesn't have to report when – or even if – it's using acidization in the oil patch. With this series, we're hoping to shed a little light on the topic and stimulate discussion in Sacramento about how to proceed responsibly."
Hydrofluoric acid is one of the most hazardous industrial chemicals in use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and can cause severe burns to skin, eyes, and lungs. Overexposure to hydrofluoric acid, or absorption of the substance through the skin, if left untreated, can cause death.
"California's leaders make better decisions when they make informed decisions," said Matt James, President and Co-Founder of Next Generation. "We're confident that, with a broader understanding of the implications of an oil boom – particularly given the potential issues around acidization – California will be on a much better footing to allow responsible development that balances our need for energy against proper protections for human health, the environment, and our climate."
Much is unknown about the substance and the practice of acidization, but experts say it could be what propels California into a shale boom of its own. However the environmental effects are even less well known than those of fracking. It would appear that the practice of fracking has been so demonized by environmental activism that Californians will try anything to avoid hydraulic fracturing in the Monterey shale -- even pumping hydrofluoric acid into the ground.
Photo credit: Rubin 110 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA