Burning Water

Burning Water by Tadzio Richards, Maisonneuve Magazine, The Controversy Issue, March 17, 2007, earned a gold (investigative reporting) and silver (science, technology and the environment) at the National Magazine Awards.
In the recent early days of CBM in Alberta, unless a company was planning on fracing into freshwater aquifers, companies were not required to do baseline testing of nearby water wells prior to drilling for gas. And they were allowed to drill at less than two hundred metres below the surface, or above what’s known as the “base of groundwater protection” line. Just beneath the surface, out of sight, where natural gas and groundwater lie in close proximity, the ground was blasted apart. In Calgary, I talked to an engineer, Pat McLellan, who said, “Hydraulic fracturing at shallow depths of less than two hundred metres is complex, and as an industry, we are less certain about the size and orientation of the induced network of cracks.” … This past year, new regulations were drafted, banning shallow fracing above two hundred metres in depth without a full first assessment of potential impacts. As well, companies must now ask landowners with water wells within six hundred metres of a CBM gas well if they want their water tested prior to drilling (eight hundred metres if there’s no closer well). Ernst noted that this was too little, too late for the Horseshoe Canyon, where thousands of CBM wells already exist. And besides, the baseline testing would just identify the presence of gas in water. Increases of gas levels in water would not be tested for. Though the technology exists to do it, there is no mandated effort to trace methane in water back to a contaminating gas well.

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