Forent Energy in fracking ‘grey zone’ on Alton project by Brett Bundale, February 11, 2014, Chronicle Herald
A Calgary company planning to renew its licence to explore for oil and gas in Nova Scotia is eagerly awaiting the results of the province’s hydraulic fracturing review. Forent Energy Ltd. said Tuesday it has met the capital work commitment stipulated in its exploration licence for the Alton block in Colchester County, spending more than $4.5 million before this spring. The company plans to renew its licence for another three years, stretching its search for onshore hydrocarbons in Nova Scotia until April 2017. But Forent president and chief executive officer Richard Wade expressed concern with the uncertainty of operating in Nova Scotia while the fracking review is continuing. “We’re caught in a period where we need to make a work commitment, but the rules under which we need to work are not clearly defined,” Wade said in an interview. “We’re kind of in this grey zone. We’re absolutely very interested in doing more work on the block. We just need to understand what the rules and regulations are in which we’re going to do that work.”
The uncertainty surrounding fracking in the province has made it difficult for Forent to raise capital, Wade said. The company began looking for a joint-venture partner to boost exploration activity in Nova Scotia last year. “I’ve had personal conversations with a number of different companies, including major international companies who have expressed interest in doing something on the block,” Wade said. However, investors and potential joint-venture partners have shied away from Forent’s activities in Nova Scotia until the fracking review is completed. “We’re raising money and looking for partners to help us develop the block, but the first question that we get is what are the results of the review,” Wade said. “They say come see me once the fracking review is done and we can talk about what it means to do business in Nova Scotia.”
The province commissioned an independent review of hydraulic fracturing last year. Meetings and public consultations are expected to wrap up this May. The review panel will then issue recommendations, which the provincial government is expected to adopt.
Until then, onshore oil and gas exploration in the province remains in limbo. While it is still unclear whether Nova Scotia has commercially viable hydrocarbon deposits onshore, Wade said Forent is committed to the province. “We’re really on the leading edge of onshore exploration in Nova Scotia.” The company has spent a total of $11 million exploring for oil and gas here, he said. “We think the prize is worth chasing. We just need the regulations to work under.”
In 2012, Forent drilled two exploration wells on the Alton block, and “several significant natural gas shows were detected and live oil was found in the mud tank” of one of those wells. “Although it is disappointing that economic quantities of oil and/or natural gas were not encountered in either of the two wells, Forent is extremely pleased to obtain positive indications of an active petroleum system,” the company said at the time. Forent needs to drill more exploratory wells in order to assess the commercial viability of what is underground, Wade said. The company is eyeing two types of rocks in the Alton block, in the Upper Stewiacke area. Although Wade said one of the rocks does not appear to require fracking, Wade said the pore space in the second type of rock is mineralized and could require hydraulic fracturing in order to stimulate. “We don’t know until we drill into it what the actual rocks are going to hold and contain. The wells may need to be stimulated.” [Emphasis added]
Misinformation poisons the hydro-fracking well by Richard Gagné, February 11, 2014, Chronicle Herald
Re: the Feb. 5 letters to the editor written in response to your Feb. 1 editorial, “Respecting the evidence.” My concern is the steady refrain of misinformation on hydro-fracking. It has been spread in amounts greater than the salt on our winter roads. We are long overdue for a fact-based and properly balanced discussion on this matter.
Having explored for oil and gas years ago, and working now for more than 25 years as a geoscientist in surface water and groundwater resource development and protection, I feel I can rightly say that fracking can present risks, just as many other accepted industrial activities can pose risks to the environment.
But hydraulic fracturing, which was invented in 1947, commercialized in 1949, and has been used over 2.5 million times worldwide for oil and gas development, is not new. So the risks are well understood, and are generally no greater than those posed by almost any other type of oil and gas development activity.
During fracking, water is usually introduced into deep, non-potable salt-water laden geologic horizons. There are typically large vertical separations between frack zones and drinking water aquifers, and fracking operations are monitored more closely than most outside the industry might realize.
After all, besides the economic incentives for successful fracks, the geologists and engineers who understand and apply the technology also share the same environmental-quality concerns as everyone else, because they live in and obtain their drinking water from the same environment as everyone else.
Besides surface spills, which the use of best practices can reduce, the greatest risks from fracking may arise where there is a legacy of oil and gas development with many old, improperly built and abandoned oil and gas wells. These can serve as vertical conduits along which fluids under pressure could migrate into shallower freshwater aquifers.
But since we have no such development history, that scenario doesn’t exist in Nova Scotia. And new oil and gas well construction procedures are designed to avoid those types of scenarios.
We keep hearing statements like “hundreds of chemicals are used in the fracking process,” which have no doubt caused many to fear that risks are greater then they really are. This type of misleading statement can perhaps be better phrased to say: “There are hundreds of chemicals available on the menu for fracking,” noting also that only three to six chemicals are ever used on any one frack job.
Many are chemicals we use daily in our homes, or to manufacture food. Through objective reviews, we can identify the hazardous ones and remove them from the menu.
Ocean water can be used, and recovered frack water reused on the next frack job — to be put right back into the salt-water laden horizons it came from. Plus, methods exist to treat frack water to near rainwater quality when necessary.
So there should be few concerns in Nova Scotia about finding water to frack with, or about treating frack water, once proper infrastructure is put in place as the industry gets underway.
Then there are the social issues that can result from a boom industry (should it ever come to that), versus the economic benefits that onshore oil and gas development can bring to Nova Scotia, versus the lost opportunities that may result from outright banning hydro-fracking.
I think these issues, rather than the technical or environmental ones, are the more complicated and difficult ones that we should be addressing and trying to resolve. So why do we hear so little about these?
Now that the Wheeler review expert panel selections have been made, I’m hopeful that we may begin to see, for the first time in Nova Scotia, sound action to properly sort fiction from fact — and accept to let the chips lie where they may fall.
My concern remains, however, that the anti-fracking advocates purposefully spreading their misinformation may have done their craft so well as to have tainted whatever process we deploy to get to the truth.
Richard Gagné is a geoscientist who lives in Halifax
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