Have you heard conflicting information about hydraulic fracturing? Here are some common questions, followed by the facts.
Further, the University of New Brunswick examined the groundwater and water wells near the McCully field in New Brunswick. The study was released by the Geologic Survey of Canada in 2013 and concluded: “there is no indication that development and production at the McCully field has affected the water wells.” A presentation featuring highlights of this study can be found on the website of the New Brunswick Energy Institute (NBEI).
The crucial point to note is that hydraulic fracturing fluids have never migrated upwards from the wellbore to contaminate groundwater.
According to a recent report by researchers at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, “due to the distance between the targeted formation and the aquifer, it is anticipated that fractures would not extend from the shale to the aquifer, and thus direct contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluids would appear unlikely.”
In the United States, state regulators from Alabama to Alaska have also said that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible threat to groundwater. Reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all shown no significant risk.
A typical well consists of more than two layers of thick steel and cement, which are designed to protect groundwater. In a small number of instances, a well may experience a buildup of pressure, which can – in extremely rare cases – lead to leakage between one of these barriers inside the well. But in order for the well actually to leak, every one of those barriers would have to crack and fail. Such instances are extremely rare.
For example, in British Columbia the Oil and Gas Commission has acknowledged that 10% of the Province’s wells may have experienced such pressure, but that the “gas does not migrate to soil or water — it is trapped within the surface casing protection layer. From there it has to be vented to ensure it is safely disposed.”
Researchers at Cape Breton University recently released two reports finding that the risk for water contamination and well integrity failure from hydraulic fracturing is quite low. As one study puts it, “[t]here is a low likelihood of casing integrity loss.”
Wells in New Brunswick are tested after being cemented in to ensure the cement job was completed properly and effectively. If the well fails these tests, generally referred to as bond log tests and leak tests, the well must be remediated immediately. Production and hydraulic fracturing can only occur after the well successful passes these tests.
Download the “Well Casing Failure Rates: Myth vs. Fact” Fact Sheet from Energy in Depth
Water is indeed a precious resource and all users, including the oil and gas industry, should continue to look for ways to reduce their consumption.
But it’s important to note that shale production only accounts for a tiny fraction of Canada’s overall water use. Manufacturing, agriculture, and other activities actually use billions of gallons more water than shale producers.
According to the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Mining, a typical well “could require up to 20 million litres of water for water-based hydraulic fracturing. While that may sound like a lot, it is only 0.00025% of the 80 trillion litres of rain that falls on New Brunswick each year. New Brunswick has and will continue to have an ample water supply for people, ecosystems and industry, including natural gas development.”
In British Columbia, a province with substantial oil and gas operations, oil & gas production accounts for less than 1% of the entire region’s water use; in Alberta, it is less than 1.5%.
Additionally, water consumption is steadily being reduced over time. As a column in Water Canada magazine put it, “The oil and gas industry is a leader in Canada with respect to research and development of water reuse.”
Take, for instance, Dawson Creek, BC: Faced with limited water supplies, producers constructed a $12 million water treatment facility that transforms non-potable sewage water into fluids that could be used for shale development. As a result the city will provide a model for producers looking to rapidly reduce their water consumption, while ensuring that communities are able to enjoy the economic benefits of oil and gas production.
A growing industry practice is also to recycle the “flowback” or water that returns to the surface, by mixing it with fresh water and using it in the next hydraulic fracturing operation. As producers continue to expand water recycling activities, even these comparatively small amounts will continue to decline.
Indeed, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Marcellus Shale operators are now recycling 90% of their flowback water.
In Canada, shale development has occurred safely in forests and coexisted with sensitive habitats for decades.
Natural Resources Canada, which oversees oil and gas development as well as forest and habitat protection, has noted hydraulic fracturing and its minimal environmental impacts: “Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology already used safely in a large proportion of the roughly 11,000 oil and gas wells drilled each year in Canada; this technique is essential to the effective operation of the oil and gas sector; and it is routinely done without negative safety consequences or significant adverse environmental impacts.”
It is also important to remember that our Province has some of the most stringent and comprehensive hydraulic fracturing rules in place anywhere in North America, working together with companies to ensure responsible and safe development.
A well that is hydraulically fractured also has a small environmental footprint. The average gas well has a 2m by 2m surface footprint and several wells can be on located on one pad (which typically measures about 4 acres). Well pads will eventually be restored to their natural environment.
Download the “Horizontal Drilling Reduces Land Impacts” Fact Sheet from Energy in Depth
Hydraulic fracturing does not typically pose a credible large risk for earthquakes. The seismic events that you may have heard about are in fact not generally linked to hydraulic fracturing but to wastewater disposal, a completely separate process. However, seismic activity associated with disposal wells is also very rare. Disposal wells are not permitted under New Brunswick regulations.
The BC Oil and Gas Commission, the public regulator in British Columbia, has issued two reports – one in 2012, another in 2014 – that confirmed the link between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity. Both reports can be found on the BCOGC’s website. The largest of these reached 4.4 ML, which is classified as light. None of these events caused any injuries or property damage to surface structures, and noted that recorded ground motions were below the damage threshold. They did not impact the environment.
Seismic activity related to hydraulic fracturing is rarely felt on the surface and usually occurs near where the rock is being fractured, or 1,800 to 2,500 metres (1.8 to 2.5 kms) below ground. The 2014 report on the Montney play in B.C. said that of the 7,500 hydraulic fracture stimulations during the study period, only 11, or 0.15 per cent, have caused tremors that were felt.
It is important to remember that Geological formations and seismic activity varies from one region to another, and the Geologic Survey of Canada has set up several seismic stations in the Sussex-Moncton area to monitor activity. During Corridor’s 2014 hydraulic fracturing program, no seismic activity was observed.
As the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission further explained, the vast majority of wastewater disposal wells in northeast B.C. do not generate induced seismic events. Induced seismic events have been noted at two disposal wells, occurring in marginal reservoir quality rock in proximity to existing faults.”
This finding echoes numerous other reports, which find that the risk for seismicity associated with injection wells is very low. For instance, the U.S. National Research Council stated, “injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.”
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has also explained that the risk of seismicity from injection wells is manageable. According to USGS’s Bill Ellsworth, “in many of these cases, it’s been fixed by either shutting down the offending well or reducing the volume that’s being produced. So there are really straight-forward fixes to the problem when earthquakes begin to occur.”
This chart explains the Richter scale and that each level is 10 times stronger than the previous level. 8,000 seismic events with recordings for 2 or less, occur everyday world wide. 49,000 seismic events from 3-3.9 occur every year. Seismic activity from hydraulic fracturing are contained in a very small area and when monitored, usually have a recording below 2 using the Richter scale.
New Brunswick rules, updated in 2013, require that companies involved in the exploration, development and production of natural gas and oil post a security bond. This bond is money that will be used to protect property owners in the event there is an industrial accident, including the loss or contamination of drinking water.
New Brunswick has some of the toughest rules in North America. New rules were launched in 2013 after an extensive review of other jurisdictions with oil and natural gas activity. See below for a chart on how New Brunswick compares to British Columbia and Alberta.
Yes there is an active natural gas industry in New Brunswick. Since 1990, 40 oil and 40 natural gas wells have been drilled and 49 of those have been hydraulically fractured. There are currently 32 producing natural gas wells in the Penobsquis area as well as some oil wells in Albert County.
Natural gas production in New Brunswick in 2014 averaged just over 9 million cubic feet per day.
The first natural gas in Canada was discovered in New Brunswick in 1859 but the reality is that we don’t know exactly how much natural gas is in the rocks in New Brunswick. That’s why we need to explore to find out what the potential for the province might be. Exploration allows geologists to better understand and estimate New Brunswick’s natural gas potential.
We do know that there is natural gas in parts of Southeastern New Brunswick. Calgary based consultants GLJ & Associates Ltd. have estimated a 67 trillion cubic feet (tcf) gas-in-place resource in the Frederick Brook formation in the Sussex and Elgin sub-basins. For context, Canada produced 5.56 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 2012 and is the 5th largest producer of natural gas in the world. (Source: BP Statistical Review 2013)
No. That myth was largely perpetrated by the Gasland films, which omitted quite a few important facts.
You may remember the original flaming faucet featured in the first Gasland film. Even before the documentary was filmed, state regulators in Colorado had already determined that the methane found in the well had nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing. In fact, it was later revealed that the homeowner had drilled his well through four separate coal seams, which were loaded with flammable methane, hence the situation with the faucet.
What about the flaming faucet in Gasland II? A judge ruled that the people in that video had hooked their hose up to a gas vent – not a water line – and ignited it, creating a “deceptive video” intended to scare residents into thinking their water could catch on fire. In both of these cases, environmental regulators determined that the methane in the water wells in these areas was naturally occurring and had nothing to do with shale development.
Moreover methane is frequently present regardless of any oil and gas activity. In May 2015 researchers at the University of New Brunswick found trace amounts of methane in parts of the Province which have no history of oil and gas development.
No, in fact, hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas are responsible for bringing down greenhouse gas emissions to twenty year lows in the United States.
The world’s more prominent climate scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found in its latest assessment that “the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
You may have heard shale development opponents argue that methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing cancel out the climate benefits of natural gas, but the facts show otherwise.
In April 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its annual Greenhouse Gas Inventory finding that methane emissions from natural gas are down 38% since 2005, while natural gas development increased by 26% in that same timeframe. In fact, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently said, “Responsible development of natural gas is an important part of our work to curb climate change.”
Natural gas is a cleaner burning energy option and will result in less harmful emissions than other energy options. For example “natural gas, when combusted at different types of existing U.S. power plants, produces anywhere from 42% to 63% of the CO2 emissions of coal, depending upon the power plant technology.”
Studies from Canada to the UK, to the UnitedStates have found that there is no credible health risk from shale development.
- The British Columbia Ministry of Health released the second part of its Human Health Risk Assessment of oil and gas activities in the Province in March 2015. The report concluded that “while there is some possibility for elevated chemicals of potential concern concentrations to occur at some locations, the probability that adverse health impacts would occur in association with these exposures is considered to be low.” In addition the report explored residents’ potential exposure through the consumption of locally grown produce and drinking water, over the long term, also finding that the “the potential for adverse human health effects is low.”
- An August 2014 report by the Cape Breton University’s expert panel on hydraulic fracturing stated, “There is currently no evidence of catastrophic threats to public health in the short-to-medium term that would necessitate the banning of hydraulic fracturing outright.”
- A study by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found that air emissions in the Marcellus shale significantly decreased in 2012. In fact, according to DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo, the “across-the-board emission reductions … can be attributed to the steady rise in the production and development of natural gas, the greater use of natural gas, lower allowable emissions limits, installation of control technology and the deactivation of certain sources.”
- A report commissioned by Fort Cherry School District in Pennsylvania, which studied air emissions at a well site in the Fort Cherry School District came to the conclusion that the samples “did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air. When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.”
- Using data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a study on emissions in the Barnett Shale by the Houston based ToxStrategies concluded that there is no credible health risk associated with shale development. As it states: “The analyses demonstrate that, for the extensive number of VOCs measured, shale gas production activities have not resulted in community-wide exposures to those VOCs at levels that would pose a health concern.” Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature. There are many different types of VOC and some are dangerous to human health or the environment.
- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted months of testing in the Barnett Shale area, and its samples showed “no levels of concern for any chemicals.” It added that “there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area.”
- A study by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found no major health threat from shale development, concluding, “Based on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.”
- The Colorado Department of Public Health installed air quality monitors at a well site that activists complained about and concluded in its study of the data: “The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risk driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.”
- A study by the Texas Department of Health used blood samples to determine if there was a relationship between air emissions and the residents’ health. The researchers concluded there was no connection.
- A draft report by Public Health England, an executive agency of the UK’s Department of Health, concluded: “The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated.”
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection conducted air monitoring in northeast Pennsylvania and concluded that the state “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” A similar report for southwestern Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion.
- A peer-reviewed study looking at cancer incidence rates in several Pennsylvania counties found “no evidence that childhood leukemia was elevated in any county after [hydraulic fracturing] commenced.”
Since natural gas is clean burning, it also reduces emissions, a further benefit to public health.
- A report released last year by University of California-Berkeley climate scientist Richard Muller found that “air pollution can be mitigated by the development and utilization of shale gas” and that it is amazing that these benefits are not more widely addressed by environmentalists,” especially in the context of the fracking debate. Muller concludes: “environmentalists who oppose the development of shale gas and fracking are making a tragic mistake.”
- The Pennsylvania DEP also found that over 500 million tons of emissions have actually been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas.
- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has promoted the benefits of natural gas in reducing air pollution, saying, “The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”
It is important to remember that oil and gas development is not a new phenomenon in New Brunswick. The industry has been in the Province for more than 100 years and many of the companies looking to operate here have a long and successful track record of working in close collaboration with local communities. There’s no reason to think that will suddenly change.
A key factor in the “Boomtown Effect” is the rapid growth in oil and gas activity, followed by a similarly quick decline. That has not been the case in New Brunswick where development has taken a more measured and sustainable path. Industry anticipates that the pace of future progress will continue to be slow as companies work to prove the commercial viability of the resource in New Brunswick.
Nor is there any indication to suggest that activity will suddenly fall away. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Agency, International Energy Forum, and a number of notable scholars and experts have all shown that productivity of oil and natural gas wells in many existing wells is generally increasing as a result of improved technologies.