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As Monterey Shale Boom Looms in California, is "Fracking" a Distraction?



New report from Next Generation highlights “acidizing,” little-known oil production method that could fuel California oil resurgence


San Francisco, CA – A little-known oil production technique that uses a powerful acid to dissolve rock underground could transform the oil industry and lead to a new boom in oil production from California’s Monterey Shale. But, according to a new report from San Francisco-based think tank Next Generation, little is known about the potential risks of widespread use of the technique, known as “acidizing,” and current regulations don’t address the practice.

As the first installment in an online series about the Monterey Shale led by Next Generation research analyst Robert Collier, “Distracted by Fracking” explores the technical realities of what it will take to develop the Monterey Shale oil deposits. The shales, which run deep underground from south of the San Francisco Bay Area all the way through the Los Angeles Basin, contain oil deposits similar to the Canadian tar sands – but with several important distinguishing characteristics.

“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’s research, the oil industry has already been experimenting with acidizing, a production technique in which a solution of hydrofluoric acid – one of the most corrosive acids known – is pumped into an oil well in order to dissolve the folds of rock that separate the oil deposits underground. But the research also showed that state regulators are largely unaware of – and unfamiliar with – the practice, leading some regulators to wonder whether the state is ready for a 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.”   

Hydrofluoric acid, the main ingredient in California acidizing, is commonly used in oil refineries, where it serves as a catalyst to produce high-octane gasoline. It 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.”

As the first installment in a four-part series, “Distracted by Fracking” includes video interviews with petroleum experts and geologists. Future installments include a focus on the potential climate impacts of emissions from Monterey Shale development, along with video interviews with leading state experts and elected officials. The series will run exclusively on the Next Generation website, .



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