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<b>ACID CONFUSION:</b> Is Venoco using acid to get more oil out of Platform Holly’s wells? The oil
company says no, enviros say yes, and differing definitions may be to blame.

Paul Wellman (file)

ACID CONFUSION: Is Venoco using acid to get more oil out of Platform Holly’s wells? The oil company says no, enviros say yes, and differing definitions may be to blame.


Questions Remain Over Offshore Acidizing

Differing Definitions of Technical Terms May Explain Why Platform Holly Dispute Exists


Thursday, February 20, 2014
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[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story appears here.]

Last week, one day after a report was released claiming that Venoco Inc. was using a technique known as matrix acidizing to stimulate production from the wells that it accesses from Platform Holly off the Goleta coast, the Carpinteria-based oil company issued a brief statement denying that it was using the process for extraction purposes. “Venoco does not hydraulically fracture or matrix acidize any wells on Platform Holly,” said Venoco spokesperson Lisa Rivas in an email. Instead, she explained that acid is used for cleaning the platform’s well bores, which has been done for several decades. “This is a process that has been used in onshore and offshore oil wells around the world for generations,” Rivas explained.

That’s contrary to the February 11 report published by Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center, whose student intern, Matthew Buggert, researched the state’s public records related to the platform, which is offshore of UCSB’s Coal Oil Point. According to the report and subsequent conversations with EDC attorney Brian Segee, Venoco had, since 2006, applied for and been issued 10 permits whose language suggested that the process was being used to extract more resources rather than just clean wells.

To the EDC and other environmental groups, acidizing, in which hydrochloric and/or hydrofluoric acid is pumped into the ground to free up oil, represents a potentially dangerous situation since the practice has not undergone extra scrutiny, particularly in regard to offshore drilling. To them, it’s just like hydraulic fracturing, a k a fracking, which has caused a loud and constant nationwide uproar. Like fracking, acidizing is currently being analyzed by Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which will establish a brand-new set of regulations for these well-stimulation techniques by January 2015.

Specifically, Segee said that the records, which were found at the state’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in Santa Maria, cited one reference to a “pump acid stimulation job” and further references to “acid job[s]” that used chemicals in the same way. Segee also said that the use of multiple fluids for “preflush,” stimulating, and “overflush” as well as the use of a “diverter” comprising benzoic acid flakes made them more confident of Venoco’s matrix acidizing. (There is also the process of fracture acidizing, which is basically fracking, but with pressurized acid as a base instead of water and chemicals; the EDC report does not suggest Venoco has done this.)

When asked to further clarify that Venoco was denying the allegations raised in the EDC’s report, Rivas explained that the previous statement was all that the company was prepared to say of the matter.

This sort of dispute may be increasingly common, says Briana Mordick, a former oil industry engineer who now works for the Natural Resources Defense Council and has looked at the EDC’s research. As part of the state’s process to develop new regulations over fracking, acidizing, and other well-stimulation techniques via SB 4, Mordick said that DOGGR has created new parameters for what qualifies as stimulation, developing “arbitrary” thresholds related to the concentration of acids and how deep the penetration goes. “This is giving operators the ability to keep doing things without additional oversight,” said Mordick. “There’s not necessarily a technical foundation for that. It’s more of a political move to exempt some of what the industry considers traditional operations.” But many of these practices should be covered by new regulations, believes Mordick, explaining, “When you are injecting these fluids for the purpose of improving the permeability of the formation ​— ​regardless of how far it’s penetrating the formation or what concentration of acid you’re using ​— ​that’s stimulation by the most fundamental definition.”

Acidizing aside, Venoco’s Rivas assured that the platform is safe and clean. “Platform Holly is a zero-discharge platform ​— ​meaning nothing is released to the ocean, not even rain water off the decks of the platform,” said Rivas. “Every drop of fluid is captured and contained. All of Venoco’s offshore and onshore operations are highly regulated, and we pride ourselves on adherence to all state and local regulations. The regulators approve all Venoco’s plans for oil development and receive regular reports on all our operations.”

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Another shakedown, especially where there is money to be had.

dablinders (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 8:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It is sad to see EDC sink to this low point in journalism. Anything to keep donations coming in I guess.

dontoasthecoast (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 10:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Low point in journalism? Did you read the article? Their source is DOGGR. Veneco is lying. Read the ****ing article.

nitrogen (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 11:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Imagine a given minority group that was subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the oil industry, where their every action was the subject of a headline.

Imagine further a public that was overtly hostile to that group, and that this hostility was publicly acceptable and indeed even politically correct. Imagine that the public assumed this group to be guilty until proven innocent on every charge brought against it.

Imagine further a public and press that knew very little of the technical details behind the groups actions, and was content to go with assumptions based on emotion and not science or engineering realities.

This is the state of the oil industry in the US today.

Briana Mordick has 6 years experience as a petroleum industry geologist. As a relatively green geologist, Mordick would probably at best have had only a superficial appreciation of well completion and stimulation technologies, and no formal education or on the job training in these areas. It's almost certain that she never actually ran an acid or hydraulic fracture job herself, and that she would not know how to do so if asked. She has a vested interest in presenting alarmist scenarios as that increases her job security, confers recognition (what would happen to her career if she determined that the risks of these procedures were low?), and increases funding for the EDC. Yet she is presented as an unbiased industry expert by journalists who don't know any better.

swimmer (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 11:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The EDC is running a business. They are enviro-ambulance chasers. They do what they do for the money. They say they are here 'for the earth', or 'for the children', or any other emotional clap trap that sounds good. Really its for the money. They know it and so do most of us.

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 11:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Obviously EDC just made this up. Make that the story instead of what the State agency DOGGR has reported about Venoco, because Venoco never would do anything bad, ever, and EDC always loses its lawsuits and permit modification requests.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 20, 2014 at 12:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hydrofloric acid is one of the most toxic chemicals in industrial use. The CDC lists it as a potential chemical weapon. The United Steelworkers want its use phased out of oil refineries entirely, calling it a risk too great for the steelworkers and the 26 million Americans living near refineries.

Platform Holly is right next to one of the largest natural oil seeps in the world. It's also very close to UCSB and popular beaches and wetlands. It's where my kids swim.

Anyone who thinks using any level of acidizing at Platform Holly is a good idea probably works for the oil companies -- companies who are spending a lot of time and money trying to buy our elected officials and silence and discredit environmentalists.

jdiggs (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 5:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I wouldn't trust Venoco with a used kleenex. When they tried to frack Carpinteria's drinking water, every aspect of the campaign was a lie. They hired non-resident's to wave signs and gather signatures to create synthetic local support. Every sign they posted was a lie, and every claim they made during the measure 'J' campaign was a lie. Venoco has a despicable track record of genocidal behavior. Please read the book "Parts per Million" by Joy Horowitz about the skyrocketing cancer rates of an L.A. High School with oil derricks working on the campus. I have spoken to Lisa Rivas, and she is a smug shameless liar who is content to poison the people of Santa Barbara County, because she is well paid and gets cushy "non-profit" positions.

Rinconer (anonymous profile)
February 21, 2014 at 7:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So here are the takeaways from the oil friendly comments:

Environmentalists will do anything for a dollar. That must be why Forbes lists environmentalism as one of the top paying industries to go into, and the EDC as one of the emerging billion dollar enterprises... except it isn't, they don't, and none of its true.

Oil companies on the other hand are hard working truthful companies that would never compromise on public safety, environmental safety, or split hairs on whether toxic acid is being used for deep fracking, shallow fracking, or just maintenance. The BP spill, a conspiracy, Exxon Valdez, lies, the 1969 spill in Santa Barbara that spawned the rise of that multibillion dollar environmental enterprise Earth Day - that was made up too.

Oil companies have a billion dollar monetary incentive to push the boundaries of the law and beyond if no one is looking. Saying environmentalist organizations like the EDC are rich money sucking bullies pushing around billion dollar oil companies is ... um, not true.

It's the oil companies that make make billions not EDC, it's the oil companies that have incentive to tell half truths, its Exxon on the top of the Fortune 500 list not EDC, and if you want to talk about cushy well paid positions, the Venoco Exec Chairman made $5MM+, the CEO $2MM+ in 2012, not anyone at the EDC.

Seriously? Environmentalists are the overpaid bullies? Should we all be sending our charitable contributions to Venoco?

kazk (anonymous profile)
February 23, 2014 at 6:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Since I use both hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid in cleaning my swimming pool I consider myself familiar with these chemicals. Yes they are dangerous if handled improperly, but the reason these things can be used with benign results is that they neutralize quickly once they react with something such as rock, or with other chemicals in a swimming pool. Adding a few gallons of these acids to swimming pools never results in danger to the users of the pool, and adding a few hundred gallons to an oil well does not result in any danger once that acid contacts the rock in the subsurface. If you poured them directly into the ocean the result would be that within a few seconds the acid would become water and salt when it reacts with a base in the ocean water. I find these arguments to be hyperbolic and rhetorical because the people who are most alarmed about this do not have basic understanding of chemical reactions. They do not even realize that these same acids can be purchased at the hardware store or at the grocery store in concentrations much higher than what these oil companies use. If you don't understand chemistry, you should make some effort to educate yourself before you get hysterical about something that you come in contact with every day. Sure, the experts may be out to fool you (why trust government regulators), and no one trusts an oil company, but I don't trust the environmentalists any further than I can throw them these days. And that isn't very far.

diver (anonymous profile)
February 24, 2014 at 9:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hydrofluoric acid is not generally used to clean pools! Even in very dilute amounts, this would be risky.

Just to give a sense of how dangerous it is -- it was one of the chemicals in the Syria chemical weapon stash.

1. There have been oil spills at platform holly
2. There have deadly industrial HF spills

Adding those risks together = bad idea

In one industrial HF spill in Korea, thousands of people were injured. They had to drop everything and flee towns as this toxic cloud wafted through. Crops died. The fish in the river died. I am not exaggerating.

If you don't believe me, look it up.

jdiggs (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2014 at 8:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)