Rich Coleman: Tough B.C. rules make fracking extremely safe by Editorial Pages, March 2, 2014, The province
The claims and cautionary warnings in the op-ed on LNG and water use last week by Ben Parfitt and David Hughes are unfounded and inaccurate. British Columbia has been a leader in safe, responsible natural gas development for more than 50 years. Our experience has led to some of the world’s strictest rules for water use and protection — rules that will apply to LNG development.
In B.C., all wells are lined with cement that creates a barrier between extraction procedures and the environment. This protective layer must extend the entire length of the well or to a minimum depth of 600 metres. In addition, an operator is not able to drill within 200 metres of a domestic water well. As a result, hydraulic fracturing takes place far below the location of potable water sources and domestic water wells. Typically, these water sources are between 18 and 150 metres below the surface. Measures like these contribute to B.C. never having experienced groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
Spill response measures are also in place with strict protocols for cleanup and restoration. These are enforced by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Environment. Water use accounts for a small fraction of the actual run-off in our natural gas basins — in most cases less than 0.3 per cent of total run-off. In the Fort Nelson River basin, for instance, a total of 0.008 per cent of annual run-off was withdrawn between January and June 2012.
The water used by industry is carefully monitored by the some of the industry’s most knowledgeable geologists, hydrologists and engineers with the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. They apply scientific and technical rigour to ensure we continue to responsibly manage our water resources. Water flows will be maintained. Actions are swift and immediate, and any claims to the contrary are false. The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission can and has stopped operations to avoid drought conditions in the past. Water levels will always be preserved to protect British Columbians and our environment. As well, we have a proposed a new Water Sustainability Act to ensure the best standards of environmental protection are in place now and in the future. Water will continue to be protected as we develop a new LNG industry to create greater financial security and prosperity for all British Columbians. [Emphasis added]
Poster by Will Koop, BC Tap Water Alliance
Where will all the water come from for LNG? by Ben Pafitt and David Hughes, February 24, 2014, The Province
In Alberta as well as numerous U.S. states where natural gas companies operate, there is a growing public backlash against industry operations. Gas-drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — a process where immense quantities of water, chemicals and sand are pumped down gas wells to break up rock and unleash trapped gas — has contaminated water supplies. Documented problems include poisoned water wells, “containment” ponds that leaked their deadly post-fracking contents into rivers, killing fish, and municipal waste water plants damaged by the industry’s corrosive waste water.
With nearly 90 per cent of all new gas wells in B.C. fracked, how much water might be used and contaminated as natural gas drilling escalates? Between them, multinationals Shell, Chevron, Exxon and British Gas and Malaysian state-owned Petronas each have plans for LNG plants in Kitimat or Prince Rupert and have been granted export approvals by the National Energy Board. With combined investments of $70 billion, this group will need years to recoup investments and generate profits. So let’s assume they build the plants by 2020 and operate them through 2040. How many new gas wells would need to be drilled between now and then and how much water would have to be sucked out of our rivers, lakes or from wells and rendered toxic?
One underappreciated aspect of fracked gas wells is that gas production can be spectacular initially but declines rapidly. To maintain gas flows, then, it’s drill baby drill. The largest five of seven LNG projects currently approved would export 14.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day, not including gas used to power the liquefaction process itself. B.C. currently produces 3.5 bcf/d, all of which is committed to current customers. So B.C. would have to ramp up production roughly five-fold to meet these export requirements.
Let’s assume that only 70 per cent of this capacity gets built. Based on known gas-production rates and declines in fields like the Horn River and Montney, where most of this new gas would originate, roughly 39,000 new wells would be required by 2040. Assuming that nine of ten wells were fracked, a very conservatively estimated 582 billion litres of water would then be polluted and removed from the hydrological cycle. But the likely number is far higher. Minor increases in the percentage of wells drilled in the Horn River, a major gas source for proposed LNG projects, would push water use sky high.
In 2012, it took on average of 77 million litres of water to frack just one gas well in the Horn, compared to 17 million litres of water elsewhere in B.C.
Currently, the industry pays nothing or virtually nothing for that water, while taxpayers foot all downstream environmental and human health costs.
With Premier Christy Clark vowing to make B.C. the “lowest cost jurisdiction” for LNG, don’t count on government heaping higher water management responsibilities on the industry — just the opposite.
In April, the government granted the energy industry regulator — the OGC — authority to issue long-term water licences to natural-gas companies, making the fossil fuel industry the only entity in B.C. with its own dedicated water regulator, a regulator established by the province to speed approvals of industry development applications.
Meanwhile, natural-gas industry operations in B.C. have already resulted in isolated incidents of contamination and misuse of water. Recently, a leak of contaminated fracking water occurred at a massive double-lined pit maintained by Talisman Energy near Hudson’s Hope. Outside of Fort St. John, a pipeline ruptured in 2011, spilling toxic waste water onto a field, killing cows.
Gas companies have also jeopardized water flows by overdrawing during low-water periods and been forced to halt water takings after drawing down lake levels too far.
In the midst of this, the government promises a new Water Sustainability Act. [Emphasis added]
Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and author of Fracking Up Our Water, Hydro Power and Climate: B.C.’s Reckless Pursuit of Shale Gas.
[Refer also to: