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|Authors:||Duncan Kenyon, Nikki Way, Andrew Read, Barend Dronkers, Benjamin Israel, Binnu Jeyakumar, Nina Lothian|
|Publish Date:||October 2016|
|PDF Download:||[Landowners' Guide] [Landowners' Primer]|
Overview of Oil and Gas Wells
Questions About Lease Agreements
Sour Oil and Gas and Emergency Response
Environmental Considerations of Hydraulic
|Pipelines and Other Infrastructure|
|Abandonment and Reclamation|
|Compensation, Rights, and Hearings|
Hydraulic fracturing operations typically use more water than conventional operations. This water can be drawn from surface, groundwater sources or alternative sources such as reused/recycled water, wastewater, and saline sources. In most cases, because water is only needed during the initial fracture stage, operators typically apply for Temporary Diversion Licences (TDLs) to access water.
The AER posts TDL applications when they are received, which provides an opportunity for landowners who believe that they may be directly and adversely affected to submit a statement of concern. If the operation meets the low-risk criteria specified by AER technical staff, a license is automatically issued; for example, diversions of small volumes of water from borrow pits which have captured water would be automatically approved. Otherwise, the AER conducts a technical review of the TDL application.
If water is to be sourced from a groundwater aquifer that also supplies your domestic or agricultural water, it is important that you request that a company demonstrate that sufficient water is available so that the aquifer is not depleted from the additional use. Further information related to groundwater use at oil and gas operations in general can be found in Water.
If surface water is to be used, the licence will stipulate the operational requirements to withdraw the water. It is standard for a TDL to require use of a fish screen in fish- bearing water bodies, and to limit withdrawals from watercourses to specified rates that are established to protect other users and the aquatic environment. Operational requirements exist for groundwater use as well, such as limiting downdraw on a pumping well. If you suspect that licence requirements are not being met, you should notify the AER and provide any supporting evidence.
Water supplies must be protected through proper storage and disposal of fracturing fluids, as well as strict wastewater storage and treatment methods. However, surface water or soil contamination can occur if fracturing or flowback fluids are not managed properly. Spills can occur during day-to-day handling of fracture fluid, when flowback fluid production exceeds storage capacity, or when fracturing fluid or wastes are being transported to and from the site. Leaks occur if equipment is damaged or improperly operated.
The responsibility to remediate surface water or soil contamination is the same as discussed in Water.
A primary concern for landowners is the potential contamination of a water aquifer that may result if a fracture, fault, or damaged well creates a pathway between the fracture formation and the aquifer. A number of ways have been identified for groundwater to become contaminated, including the upward migration of natural gas and saline waters from moving along leaky well casings, natural fractures in the rock, old abandoned wells, or permeable faults; the fracturing itself may also damage existing well casings. These pathways may allow for fluid and gas movement over long time frames and have the potential to cause substantial cumulative impacts on subsurface water quality. The known remediation techniques to remove the contamination are expensive and long- term, and therefore the risk of groundwater contamination has received significant public attention.
To reduce this risk, the AER requires that any hydraulic fracturing operation operating above or within 100 metres of the base of groundwater protection (BGWP) must perform an additional risk assessment to evaluate the potential for contamination from the operation. If the fractures are found to encroach on the BGWP, the operation must only use fracturing fluids that will not contaminate the water aquifer. While there are substantial requirements around well construction, integrity monitoring, etc. to further reduce the risk of groundwater contamination, some concerns have been raised by landowners that these regulations do not apply to deeper fractures in certain higher risk geology (e.g. sandstone) that can result in ground water contamination.
To minimize the adverse effects on water wells, hydraulic fracturing operations cannot operate within 200 metres of water wells and within 100 metres vertically from the final depth of any water well.
After each fracture, the pressure is dropped and the injection fluids along with some reservoir fluids and gas flow back to the surface. The fluids are separated from the gas and stored on the surface, and usually reused in subsequent fracturing stages (see Disposal wells and CO2 storage). The gas that flows to the surface at this stage must also be managed. As discussed in Fracturing and well completion, the lack of infrastructure with new developments can create some issues with respect to managing the produced gas. Venting, flaring and/or incineration can still release contaminants into the air. If venting, flaring or incineration are occurring or planned for in a development near you, you should discuss with the developer about the plans for collecting produced gas. Economic, environmental, and health outcomes are best if produced gas is captured and collected into pipelines.
Multistage hydraulic fracturing wells produce, vent, flare and incinerate much more solution gas during well testing than conventional operations do. Other additional sources of air emissions include leaks of methane and VOCs from operating equipment; emissions from diesel-powered trucks and machinery; road dust; and evaporation from storage pits and silica dust. If multiple operations in a region are fracturing simultaneously, the cumulative production of air pollutants can result in nuisance problems or, in extreme cases, health impacts.
There is emerging research about the health impacts associated with exposure to this unique mixture of gases. However, the challenge is that the complexity of the research as a result of the subsurface reactions of these chemicals and the resulting cumulative risk to the public through different routes of exposure. There also remains an ongoing lack of baseline monitoring that has made it difficult to distinguish between ambient pollution and the additional pollution from these operations. You should considering asking the company to complete comprehensive tests on your water supply, local airsheds etc as part of your lease.
A number of earthquakes (also known as seismic events) have been linked to wastewater disposal and hydraulic fracturing operations, including operations in Alberta and B.C. As both wastewater disposal and hydraulic fracturing increase pressure in the sub- surface, there is a risk that they can trigger an earthquake.
Starting in 2013, the Alberta Geological Survey measured unexpected and persistent patterns of earthquakes west of the community of Fox Creek. By comparing the timing of the events with local operations, the earthquakes were determined to be associated with hydraulic fracturing. As these operations continued and earthquake activity intensified, the AER issued Subsurface Order No. 2 in 2015 to establish new seismic monitoring and reporting requirements for hydraulic fracturing operations only in the Fox Creek area.
This Order requires operators to monitor earthquake activity within 5 km of their wells and to develop response plans to address potential events. If an operator measures an earthquake event greater than a 2.0 local magnitude (ML) they must report the event to the AER. If an operator measures an event greater than a 4.0 ML they are required to immediately cease operations. Operations are not allowed to recommence until the AER approves.
In British Columbia, there were so many concerns with earthquake activity resulting from oil and gas activity that the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission conducted two studies (the 2012 Horn River study and Montney Study). As a result of the studies’ outcomes and increasing public concerns, the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission changed the permitting rules to require presence of ground motion monitoring during hydraulic fracturing activities and a ground motion monitoring report within 30 days of completing those activities.