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Does Acidizing Pose a Greater Threat to the Environment than Fracking?

By Charles Kennedy | Tue, 13 August 2013 21:56 | 2

The US has been able to experience a shale boom thanks to hydraulic fracturing, and its ability to make oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock formations available for extraction.

Around the country fracking has come under attack from many environmentalist and conservationist groups who protest at its potential to cause damage to the environment. As the inevitability of fracking moving to California seems more certain, protestors have begun to make a stand.

California is set to be the next boom state as companies look for ways to develop the Monterey shale formation that runs from central California down to the south, and holds more than 15 billion barrels of oil.

Related article: A Look at the US Shale Industry with David Hughes

A report from Next Generation stated that “politically, it’s the same fight as elsewhere – environmental regulations have been drafted, legislation written and fought over, Hollywood films made, coalitions pro and con organized -- all focused on the potential benefits, and threats, of widespread fracking.

But in California, at least, the obsession with fracking may be misplaced.”

That is because their report has revealed a new technique that is preferred in the Monterey shale due to the plays complex formation and low-permeable rocks that make traditional fracking much less effective.

The new technique is known as acidizing, and it involves pouring huge amounts of hydrofluoric or hydrochloric acid, incredibly powerful solvents, into the wells to dissolve the rock and release the trapped oil and gas.

Related article: Improving Shale Well Profits with Enhanced Oil Recovery Techniques

Acids are very dangerous substances, and whilst there have been no major accidents in the US so far, the huge volumes being transported around to oil fields in the back of trucks could result in a deadly accident similar to the tragedy in Korea last year, when hydrofluoric acid leak killed 5 workers.

One of the major concerns that the report highlights is that “there appears to be no research or other publicly available information about HF’s use in oil and gas production or its potential effects on groundwater supplies. But the risks are clear.”

Senator Fran Pavley has suggested the US’s first set of regulations that will cover all forms of fracking, and other techniques used, and aim to tighten control of the safety practised within the industry.

Senator Pavley said that “this report is a reminder that regulations need to keep pace with technology. We need to protect the public and the environment from all dangerous chemicals, regardless of how the chemicals are used.”

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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  • Carol on August 14 2013 said:
    California doesn't have an obsessiion with fracking--we have an obsession with water. It doesn't matter how our water is contaminated, we will obsess. And to say that surface acids cannot contaminate the groundwater in an earthquake state is serious misinformation.
  • Rob Peters on August 14 2013 said:
    The use of mineral acids to wash rocks isn't new.

    And whilst they may be transported in a strong, neat form to keep the volumes moved by road to a minimum, they are diluted at the surface before being introduced to the well.

    Once down hole, these acids react with the rock, are neutrlized and transformed into non harmful substances.

    HF has other hazards associated with it, but these are only realised by human contact. Again, once spent on the rock it's harmless.

    Too many people mix 'hazard' (something that can cause harm) with 'risk' (a calculation of likelihood of harm occurring and the consequences if it does). The two are not interchangeable terms! So, in this case, whilst the handling and use of strong acid present hazards, the risks are low.

    You can think about hazard and risk like this:

    A wild tiger on the loose in a village is a hazard (it can cause harm). Put the same tiger in a cage on an uninhibited island and, whilst the hazard remains, the risk to people is now virtually eliminated.

    Putting acid use into a similar context, it presents most chance of harm to the people handling at the surface; once it's thousands of feet below ground, there is no likelihood of human contact and so this risk is all but nullified.

    And because these acids are spent on the rock they come into contact with, there's no risk of groundwater contamination either.

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