Oil companies planning acid fracturing of California’s Monterey Shale

The potential new oil production boom from hydraulic fracturing in California’s Monterey Shale region will require a little-known technique using powerful acids to dissolve underground rock. The first of a series of articles by Next Generation research analyst Robert Collier focuses on the technical reality of what will be required to develop the Monterey Shale deposits.

The Monterey Shale runs from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Angeles basin, and contains oil deposits similar to the Alberta Tar Sands. That by itself means oil extraction will require massive amounts of energy and effort to extract and refine.

“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 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.”

According to Next Generation, the oil industry is experimenting with a technique called “acidizing”. This uses hydroflouric acid, one of the most corrosive acids known, to dissolve the folds of rock that separate the oil deposits underground. The organization’s research also shows that California’s regulators are largely unaware of the acidizing practice, and question whether California is ready for an oil boom.

“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.”

Conventional hydraulic fracturing uses high volumes of water mixed with other chemicals to create fractures in rock. This technique is expected to not work well in the Monterey Shale, thanks to California’s complicated underground rock formations. The acidizing technique involves massive quantities of hydroflouric acid, so that the rock layers can be dissolved and easing access to the oil.

Hydroflouric acid is a dangerous chemical that is also widely used. It is frequently used in the oil industry in refining oil to make gasoline. As long as it remains cool, the acid stays in a liquid state, but at 67 degrees Fahrenheit it boils into a dense vapor cloud that is highly toxic, doesn’t dissipate, stays near the ground and could travel to a populated area.

One also wonders what the earthquake risk is from dissolving underground rock formations in an area known for earthquakes.

You can find the article series at: http://thenextgeneration.org/

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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