A method and apparatus for local beam processing using a beam activated gas to etch material are described. Compounds are disclosed that are suitable for beam-induced etching. The invention is particularly suitable for electron beam induced etching of chromium materials on lithography masks. In one embodiment, a polar compound, such as CINO 2 gas, is activated by the electron beam to selectively etch a chromium material on a quartz substrate. By using an electron beam in place of an ion beam, many problems associated with ion beam mask repair, such as staining and riverbedding, are eliminated. Endpoint detection is not critical because the electron beam and gas will not etch significantly the substrate.