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Acid Injection Worse than Fracking? California Environmentalists Fear Frack Fight a Distraction

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As California sets the ground rules for drilling in the Monterey oil formation, a hard-to-reach shale reserve that is the largest in the United States, some environmentalists worry that politicians, regulators and fellow activists are fighting the wrong battle.

The state regulator is hammering out rules for hydraulic fracturing, while the legislature is debating 10 bills on the practice. The drilling technique known as "fracking" has caused so much concern about environmental problems that it is the subject of a Hollywood movie. But most Monterey drillers employ another technique using acid, and only one bill under consideration would regulate that method.

"All this anti-fracking language misses the target and I am very concerned it is a diversion," said Steve Shimek, of environmental group Monterey Coastkeeper.

The Monterey shale holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil, more than most estimates for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and twice the reserves of North Dakota's Bakken shale oil deposit, which has transformed that state and moved the country a bit closer to energy independence.

California's focus on fracking, which uses water and chemicals to shatter rock formations and release oil or gas, threatens to divert attention from what some environmentalists are starting to see as the real threat: acid jobs.

It is an old well completion method that involves pumping chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid into wells to melt rocks and other impediments to oil flow, and companies are not required to report when they do it.

"These are super-hazardous, poisonous chemicals and we have no idea what they are doing out there with it - how deep it is going, the volumes - nothing," said Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group. "Why shouldn't our state agency be regulating it as we hope they'll be regulating hydraulic fracturing?"

Occidental Petroleum Corp, which is leading the way on Monterey development, said in 2011 it was mainly using acid jobs to get at the shale, and Occidental said this month that only a sixth of its California wells were fracked.    
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