Ewart: Taking a regional approach to fracking, AER to launch pilot project of oversight by Stephen Ewart, February 22, 2014, Calgary Herald
The Alberta Energy Regulator has a head start on its oversight of fracking after a century of oil and gas development in the province but that history has also created its own challenges. The current boom in hydraulic fracturing has been slow to arrive in Alberta compared with some basins in North America but the 300,000 existing well bores in the province are providing authorities a lot of valuable lessons on well completions and reservoir stimulation.
Those well bores – some producing, some abandoned – are also susceptible to being penetrated by the underground pathways created by fracking. That history of oil and gas development – and its intersection with today’s industry as fracking opens undeveloped basins in previously drilled areas – is one reason the AER is about to pilot a new approach to overseeing fracking on a regional basis. Managing water resources across an entire oil or gas play is another reason for a wide-ranging approach. The pilot project will be rolled out in the next few months.
“We have done some initial work on this on the critical pieces of how do we move toward a play-based approach,” [This sounds a lot like the blanket approval approach companies targetting CBM in Alberta asked for, and received, dramatically reducing landowner and community control of surface lands] said Cal Hill, executive vice-president of strategy and regulatory division at the regulator that was established last summer. [It’s not a new regulator, the ERCB just got a name change and statutory immunity for negligence and omissions now 100% industry funded instead of 67%, and now chaired by Ex-Encana/Cenovus VP, putting industry as the leader of the regulator.] “The idea is to get a much better picture of what is going to happen in an area.”
A discussion paper by the AER, titled Regulating Unconventional Oil & Gas in Alberta, says that under its new approach, once a play is declared – the Duvernay, for example – all operators must comply with existing regulations but those could be “superseded by play-focused requirements.” It “strongly encouraged” [aka VOLUNTARY] companies to establish a play-oriented operators’ group early in development. The previous [same] regulator had launched a review of fracking in December 2012. The pilot project, which will demand more cooperation from the producers in an area, is one of the changes the AER is steadily rolling out.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has said about 90 per cent of wells, mostly gas, drilled in British Columbia this year will be fracked, compared with 70 per cent in Alberta and 60 in Saskatchewan. The low gas price removed the incentive to drill for it in Alberta basins in recent years. That scenario appears about to change. A surge in gas prices above $5 a gigajoule in Alberta this winter has revived interest in gas plays. Several industry analysts have forecast gas will average $4.75 this year, compared with $2.28 as recently as 2012.
A six-fold increase in licences producers received to use groundwater for fracking in Alberta in 2013 was another indication of looming growth. The motivation is hardly surprising. Fracking previously untapped shale gas reservoirs has redrawn the energy map around the world but, as the International Energy Agency acknowledges, “it is an intensive industrial process.”
Fracking operations typically use a series of long horizontal wells drilled from a single platform to deliver large volumes of pressurized water, sand and chemicals in a series of “staged” fractures of rock to create paths for oil or gas to flow. The process is applied repeatedly over large areas to improve the economics and increase volumes recovered. … “If you’re looking at water management you can’t do it on a wellby-well basis, it has to be regional,” said Hill, “the same with the surface infrastructure.”
Fracks in Alberta will typically use less water than in northeast B.C. for example. A gas well in B.C.’s Horn River Basin could use 90,000 cubic metres of water but, according to the AER, a Duvernay well in Alberta would use closer to 30,000 cubic metres.
The oil and gas industry uses about 10 per cent of the water in Alberta [25-100% of the water injected during fracturing is permanently lost from the hydrogeological cycle] but there are concerns over the quantity that could be used in fracking and the impact on water quality.
Haphazard well completions and poor operating practices by a few producers in Canada and the United States have prompted public concern over contamination of water supplies. Several jurisdictions new to oil and gas development have issued moratoriums on fracking. In Alberta, landowner Jessica Ernst has had a long battle with gas producer Encana over problems with her water she blames on fracking.
A regional approach in Alberta means assessing the issues with existing well bores. There have already been examples in the province of accidental “communication” between well bores and blowouts while companies were conducting frack jobs.
The AER’s discussion paper notes one of its priorities is to improve the understanding of the effects of hydraulic fracturing “especially with respect to interformational crossflow and minimizing unintended pathways to offset energy wells penetrating the same formation.”
Or, as Hill said, “the holes in the ground, that’s where the biggest risk comes from.” [Water wells, about 500,000 in Alberta, are “holes in the ground.” Frac’d released methane migrates up leaking wellbores into groundwater, subsequently rising up domestic and municipal water wells.]
Producers will need to inform the regulator as part of plans filed in advance how far out their fracks will impact existing wells. It will become more important as the AER pushes companies for longer horizontal legs on wells to reduce the surface footprint. [The greater the subsurface reach and impact, the greater the surface footprint. Wheatland, Rocky View and Mountain View Counties provide excellent proof of this: one impact example, the longer the legs, the more the toxic, radioactive waste that must be dumped somewhere, usually “footprinted” on foodlands near homes and communities. Another, the longer the legs, the more water required that is hauled on public roads, passing homes and through communities causing significant surface “footprint” damages paid for by the public. And thirdly, the surface lease size increases taking good agricultural lands out of production.]
Fracking technology is advancing so quickly, the AER doesn’t want to limit innovation with rules that are too prescriptive.
It’s also evident fracking isn’t going to disappear from the landscape anytime soon. “It’s the difference in being at the sunset years of the resource in the province or the sunset years are decades out in front of us,” Hill said. “If we’re not doing it, the energy development in this province would have a much, much shorter life.” [Emphasis added]
[A few examples of the serious pollution caused by frac’ing that the AER needs to deregulate to mitigate industry’s (and the government’s) liability:
Another “documented” case! American Arbitration Association, Commercial Arbitration Tribunal, orders Chesapeake to pay Jacqueline Place of Terry Township, Bradford County PA, $60,000 for temporary methane contamination in water well after hydraulic fracturing
Over 200 Groups Call on President Obama to Re-Open Investigations into Connection Between Fracking and Water Contamination in Parker County, Texas, Duke University Water Tests Show Water Contamination Linked to Drilling and Fracking Persists
EPA Fracking Study Rebukes Agency’s Own Safety Claims, DeSmog Exclusive: Censored EPA PA fracking water contamination In Dimock, opponent neither surprised nor hopeful over EPA leak of information on water contaminated with methane
“As somebody who has reported for 20 years on this industry in the province, I can tell you I’ve met hundreds of people in this province who have signed confidentiality agreements once their water was blown, once their livestock was killed, once a member of their family were injured, once they lost most of their grass or their trees as a result of fouling events, contamination events, air pollution, you name it. It is common practice in this province to buy people out, and then buy their silence … so there is no record of how this industry quite often performs badly.” Andrew Nikiforuk, presentation in Cochrane, Alberta 2011, watch at: FrackingCanada How the West was Lost
“It is one conflict after another.” Lisa Bracken’s home in Silt, Colorado, sits between two fracing pads. She’s waged about a dozen legal battles with the driller EnCana, but say the biggest was over a 2004 natural gas seep into nearby Divide Creek. EnCana denies wrong doing. “In 2004, you could light a flame a foot high off that creek.” Bracken says EnCana offered her a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement, but that she turned it down. She called it a “common practice.” … “In exchange for a couple of bucks here, we get your silence here. For a lot of landowners…sadly, they welcome that, because it is such a contentious environment.”
Hydraulic fracturing with gelled propane by Gasfrac/Crew Energy Inc./Caltex Energy Inc. contaminated groundwater near Grande Prairie: ERCB Investigative Report and groundwater monitoring by Alberta Environment
EnCana racks up the fines EnCana Oil & Gas was hit with another fine last week in connection with its operations in Garfield County. It has violated state regulations and laws in connection with 17 wells this year and been fined a total of $454,200. “Seventeen for this one company is quite a few,” said Morris Bell, operations manager for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. But the company promises next year will be different. EnCana spokesman Walt Lowry said this week EnCana’s goal is to be issued no notices of alleged violation by the COGCC in 2005. “It’s a dangerous business. Things do happen, but it’s our commitment and our goal to ensure that they don’t,”
1987 EPA Report to Congress EPA report documenting groundwater and water well contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
etc. Disclaimer: The above list is far from comprehensive. ]