Oil drilling scrutiny to extend beyond fracking

Source: Ventura County Star (CA), June 18, 2013
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Concerned that proposals to identify and monitor chemicals injected into oil wells may focus too narrowly on hydraulic fracturing, a Senate committee Tuesday will look more broadly into all drilling techniques designed to stimulate oil recovery.
Specifically, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee seeks to learn more about a process called “acidizing,” in which thousands of gallons of acid, often hydrofluoric acid, are injected into wells to dissolve parts of rock formations to create spaces for petroleum to flow out.
That process has the same objective as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” in which the injection of a highly pressured mixture of water, chemicals and sand into wells forces rock to crack.
Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who will lead Tuesday’s hearing, said there are growing indications that industry experts think acid injection may be more effective than fracking at unlocking petroleum reserves in California’s Monterey Shale formation.
A research paper presented last year at a Society of Petroleum Engineers conference in Bakersfield, for example, says, “Hydrofluoric acidizing in the Monterey Shale has had a long history of success,” and cites a 1999 case study.
The shale formation underlies 1,750 square miles of California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, including much of Ventura County. It has generated a flurry of interest in recent years due to hopes that new drilling technologies will enable oil companies to tap as much as 15 billion barrels of oil reserves that had long been thought unrecoverable.
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“The whole country is focused on hydraulic fracturing,” Pavley said, “but with Monterey Shale there might be other technologies, including those that already exist and some that may not be on the marketplace yet.”
With lawmakers and state regulators developing safety standards for fracking, Pavley said regulations should focus not on a single technology but rather on the environmental implications of all enhanced recovery techniques that involve pumping chemicals into the ground.
“I’m concerned whether our legislation focuses on one technology to the exclusion of others,” she said. “Any technology that uses chemicals or acids potentially endangers public health.”
Pavley invited the CEOs of three oil companies and of the oil field services company Halliburton to testify at the hearing. In a June 4 letter, she asked that they provide information “on the type and number of oil stimulation treatments, including acid-based treatments” that the companies use and plan to use in California.
All declined, deferring to two industry associations to address the panel’s questions. Representatives of the Western States Petroleum Institute and the California Independent Petroleum Association are scheduled to testify Tuesday. Pavley said she was disappointed that executives from Chevron, Occidental and Veneco chose not to accept her invitation.
“I thought it might have been a good way for them to be completely transparent,” she said.
The committee also is expected to hear from Conservation Department Director Mark Nechodom, whose department oversees the agency that regulates oil drilling in the state, and from representatives of three environmental organizations.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is circulating what it calls a “discussion draft” of potential regulations that would for the first time put specific rules in place for fracking. Currently, fracking is regulated only to the extent that conventional oil drilling activities are.
About a dozen bills that sought to regulate or ban fracking were introduced in the Legislature this year, but only Pavley’s SB 4 remains active. It would require drilling operators to give public notice before they conduct fracking operations, disclose the chemicals they will use and do before-and-after tests of nearby groundwater to verify that none of those chemicals has contaminated the water.
In addition, Pavley’s proposed legislation would require the Resources Agency to commission a peer-reviewed scientific study of the potential effects on air and water quality, water supply and seismic activity.
The ability of the industry to conduct fracking, however, would not depend on the completion or the results of the study.

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