In the quest to find new and improved ways to release crude oil and natural gas from shale, various controversial methods have been developed and employed. One method, hydraulic fracturing, which is informally referred to as “fracking,” is a process that typically involves injecting water and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation to create fissures from which natural gas and oil can be extracted. Hydraulic fracking is the most common method and has been the subject of recent controversy due to potential health, safety and environmental issues. The majority of fluid used in hydraulic fracking is millions of gallons of water, with less than one percent comprised of other chemicals.
A recent news article discusses another method, widely employed in California, called “acidizing”. The process of acidizing involves injecting hydrofluoric acid (HF acid) into the bedrock. As the article states: “HF acid is extremely toxic; it can immediately and permanently damage lungs if inhaled, and a spill on skin is easily absorbed deep into the body’s tissues and changes bone calcium atoms to fluorine atoms.” What makes HF attractive for this application is the fact that it corrodes glass, steel and rock.
Why California? It is home to the Monterey Shale Reserve which has been reported to hold approximately 15.4 billion barrels of shale oil—about 2/3 of the remaining shale oil reserves in the United States.
The article also makes a reference to a report by Robert Collier titled “Distracted by Fracking”. In his report, Mr. Collier states “In California, at least, the obsession with fracking may be misplaced. In recent months, policymakers have begun to realize that the debate about fracking may be a distraction from the technology that’s the more likely candidate for tapping the Monterey Shale: a technique, already widely in use in the oil industry, known as ‘acidizing.’ ” As a result of the seismic activity in California, much of the bedrock along the Monterey Shale has been weakened making it a bit easier to separate the crude from the shale.
An interesting fact is the gap in the current regulation—the exemptions for the gas drilling industry from many major federal environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Companies in this industry are not required to identify the toxic chemicals they use in their operations; despite the risks those chemicals pose to drinking water. The industry claims its chemical cocktails must be kept confidential because they're trade secrets. That means that companies are not required to report their use of acid, which allows them to pump large quantities of this substance into the ground. It is reported that the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) is not watching this practice and although drillers must get a permit from the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal, the permit does not specify if the activity is fracking or acidizing.
In addition to the health and safety concerns posed by the use of HF, acidizing may result in a number of potential impacts to the environment, such as:
- Stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing;
- Concerns of contamination to underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means;
- Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells; and
- Air pollution resulting from the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases.
A bill to regulate fracking was introduced to the California legislation and past the CA State Assembly on 9/11. Local environmental groups want a moratorium on fracking. As reported in the article, “Becky Bond (political director of CREDOMobile and a proponent of a moratorium) told reporters this, with a note of disbelief, ‘When we started the fracking coalition, we had no idea we also needed to tell politicians why it’s a bad idea to pump hydrofluoric acid underground!’”
by Danaila Paspalanova, CHMM