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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Environmental Defense Center investigation shows frequent 'acidizing' from Venoco's Holly platform, located off UC Santa Barbara


from EDC, February 12, 2014

The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) today announced the results of an investigation determining that since 2006 alone, Venoco, Inc. has used acidization at least ten times from Platform Holly, two miles off the coast of Goleta and the campus of U.C. Santa Barbara. Acidization is a risky well stimulation technique in which hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid are pumped down a wellbore to ease the release of oil and gas. Last fall, EDC released Dirty Water: Fracking Offshore California, a report providing the first comprehensive analysis of another well stimulation technique, hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) conducted from oil platforms located in federal waters off California's shores. This latest investigation focused on Platform Holly, as the only offshore oil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel under the jurisdiction of the State of California.

"In recent months, much public attention has been focused on fracking and with good reason," stated Brian Segee, EDC Senior Attorney and co-author of EDC's 2013 report. "However there are other techniques like acidization which are taking place off our coast in spite of an alarming lack of available information and with limited oversight and regulation."
As the name implies, acidizing involves the use of some of the most hazardous industrial chemicals to stimulate oil production. Like fracking, rudimentary forms of acidizing have been used for decades, in this case for cleaning pipes and dissolving blockages, but recently acidizing has been commonly used in more intensive ways intended to stimulate the well. 

Despite the vast estimates of oil reserves harbored in the Monterey Shale, our region's seismic history and geologic complexity have led some to speculate that acidizing could more effectively access oil than fracking. However, there are still numerous unanswered concerns where fracking and acidizing are concerned and absent a thorough environmental review, EDC and our clients have no way of establishing the potential impacts to the fragile waters of the Santa Barbara Channel or the numerous threatened and endangered marine mammals which call it home.

According to the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the two primary forms of the acidizing well stimulation process used in California are "fracture acidizing" and "matrix acidizing." Fracture acidization, similar to fracking, is done at pressure, but utilizing acids in place of sand and chemicals, with a goal of breaking the underlying formation to access the oil and gas. Matrix acidization, which appears to be largely what has taken place from Platform Holly, is similar but performed below fracture pressure with a goal of dissolving channels and wormholes in the rock formation to assist the flow of oil.

"Governor Brown recently signed SB 4, which will create the first state regulation for fracking and acidization," said Segee. "But we cannot wait for this regulation to come into effect when we are facing clear risks to Channel waters, marine mammals and the economic health of our region, which would be devastated if struck with another disaster like the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.

EDC's research was conducted with grant support from UCSB Associated Students Coastal Fund to help educate and mobilize community action to expand state protections from fracking and other well stimulation. "Acidizing and fracking, both onshore and from nearby offshore wells, represents a significant threat to the future of our region and an area of great concern to UCSB students," said Matthew Buggert, EDC's student intern who conducted much of the research for this investigation. "Needless to say, it is alarming to see this quantity of acids being deployed from Platform Holly, the closest oil platform to our coast and campus."

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