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No room for complacency

06th August 2012

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) tells Oil & Gas Technology how experience, watertight regulation and perpetual vigilance are the cornerstones to fail-safe fracking.

Drumheller Alberta Badlands Hoodoos Sandstone Formations on a Shale base, Alberta accounts for almost 80 per cent of the natural gas produced in Canada, making Alberta one the world's largest suppliers of natural gas

Canada has been producing natural gas from shale in the Appalachian Mountains since the late 1800s but it is only in the last six decades, as the extraction technologies have evolved, has the potential of the reserves begun to emerge.

Estimates suggest as much as 1,000 trillion cubic feet of shale gas could lie beneath several parts of Canada and almost 200,000 wells have been fractured in Western Canada alone over the last 60 years.
Although large-scale commercial production has yet to begin tapping away at these vast reserves, many companies have already began exploring for and developing shale gas resources in Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Today, there are two primary technologies used to produce shale gas: horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing. Both are subject to constant development and innovation, propelling “a continuing entrepreneurial fortitude”, according to Aaron Miller, CAPP manager of natural gas advocacy.

The potential benefits and opportunities of the resource are well known. Not only will it help quench North American thirst for natural gas but it could also provide immense commercial export opportunities; if enough of the resource is extracted Canada could be sharing its supplies with countries such as Japan and Korea, Markus Ermisch, CAPP media relations advisor told OGT.

Despite the risks too have being equally well-documented, Miller and Ermisch, unsurprisingly, believe they are largely unfounded. With “robust regulation” and standard setting there is no room for complacency; “you can never be too safe”, believes Miller. There are also “huge economic incentives” to safe fracturing, he adds. Even though the risks, for example from contamination, are seen as minimal – due to the distance between the shale gas and the water aquifers being so far apart – the prospects of accident are enough to ensure the highest safety standards are already in place, according to Ermisch. 

Standard-setting

With this ethos in mind, in January CAPP announced new Canada-wide hydraulic fracturing operating practices designed to improve water management and water and fluids reporting for shale gas and tight gas development across Canada. CAPP expects the hydraulic fracturing operating practices to inform and complement already existing regulatory requirements for the industry.

Developed by natural gas producers, the hydraulic fracturing operating practices apply to all CAPP members exploring for and producing natural gas in Canada. But the standards, according to Miller, could be replicated worldwide, and have already attracted interested. Countries keen to exploit their reserves but unsure of the best way forward, are looking to Canada with its decades of experience, Miller told OGT. New Zealand, for example, which is conducting an official investigation into the health and environmental impacts of fracking, has already taken in interest in the standards seeing Canada as “a leader in regulation” in this area, according to Miller.

“The hydraulic fracturing operating practices demonstrate the Canadian natural gas industry’s continued efforts to ensure responsible resource development and protection of Canada’s water resources,” said CAPP President Dave Collyer in a company statement.

In September 2011, CAPP announced the industry’s Guiding Principles for Hydraulic Fracturing, which obligate CAPP members to sound wellbore construction, fresh water alternatives, recycling where feasible, voluntary water reporting, fracturing fluid disclosure, and technical advancement and collaboration. The operating practices announced today support the guiding principles for hydraulic fracturing and strengthen industry’s focus on continuous performance improvement.

CAPP Hydraulic Fracturing Operating Practices

Canada’s shale and tight gas industry supports a responsible approach to water management and is committed to continuous performance improvement. Protecting our water resources during sourcing, use and handling is a key priority for our industry. We support and abide by all regulations governing hydraulic fracturing operations, water use and protection.

In addition, we commit to following these operating practices for hydraulic fracturing:

1. Fracturing Fluid Additive Disclosure

Purpose: To disclose on a well-by-well basis the chemical ingredients in fracturing fluid additives which are identified on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each additive, including trade names, general purpose and concentrations. This information will be made publicly available.

2. Fracturing Fluid Risk Assessment and Management

Purpose: To better identify and manage the potential health and environmental risks associated with fracturing fluid additives and ultimately increase the market demand for more environmentally sound fracturing fluids. The process for developing well-specific risk management plans for hydraulic fracturing fluid additives will be made publicly available.

3. Baseline Groundwater Testing

Purpose: To develop domestic water well sampling programs and to participate in regional groundwater monitoring programs; establish a process for addressing stakeholder concerns regarding water well performance; and to continue to collaborate with government and other industry operators.

4. Wellbore Construction and Quality Assurance

Purpose: To ensure that wellbores are designed and installed in a manner that maintains integrity before hydraulic fracturing begins, including creating a continuous cement barrier to protect groundwater and developing remedial plans in the unlikely event that a wellbore is compromised. Wellbore construction and quality assurance practices will be made publicly available as they relate to this practice.

5. Water Sourcing, Measurement and Reuse

Purpose: To safeguard surface water and groundwater quantity by assessing and measuring water sources, ensuring no withdrawal limits are exceeded, monitoring water sources as required to demonstrate the sustainability of the source; and collecting and reporting water use data. Water measurement, sourcing and reuse practices will be made publicly available.

6. Fluid Transport, Handling, Storage and Disposal

Purpose: To identify, evaluate and mitigate potential risks related to the transport, handling, storage and disposal of fluids (i.e. fracturing fluids, produced water, flowback water and fracturing fluid wastes) and ensure a quick response to accidental spills. Fluid transport, handling, storage and disposal practices will be made publicly available

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