A nonprofit environmental group recommends British Columbia keep a close eye on the shale gas industry, warning that expanding development in the Montney and Horn River shale plays could hamper the province's goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and put stress on water sources.
The Pembina Institute -- a Canadian conservation group that advocates the use of wind and solar power -- issued two reports Wednesday detailing what it perceived as the risks posed to climate action objectives and water resources by shale gas development.
"Ultimately, the provincial government should proactively manage the natural gas sector to ensure responsible development, rather than getting locked into a development path that compromises important environmental objectives," said Matt Horne, director of BC Energy Solutions at Pembina. "Alberta let oilsands development drastically outpace adequate regulation and planning oversight, with negative consequences both for the environment and the economy. BC can and should avoid making the same mistakes with shale gas development."
On water issues, Pembina recommends that the province enact water management plans in the Montney and Horn River shale plays, require companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and authorize an independent audit of water use and disposal by the shale gas industry. The group also recommended closing loopholes in existing regulations.
"While oil and gas companies are required to obtain permits for water source wells under the Oil and Gas Activities [Act], other users are not currently required to do so," Pembina said in its water report. "[This] introduces a specific problem within the natural gas sector because companies can make arrangements with nonregulated users and effectively secure access to water without any government oversight."
The water report added that one operator could use billion of liters of water. As an example, the group said plans by Apache Corp. to drill 2,500 wells in the Horn River Basin could use between one billion liters (about 264 million gallons) and 11 billion liters (2.9 million gallons) of water ever year for 20 years, depending on realized production. The report indicated that eight billion liters (2.11 million gallons) was probably the most realistic scenario in the Horn River.
Pembina conceded that the actual amount of water used by oil and gas companies is uncertain and that the province's Oil and Gas Commission had recently changed the way it calculates water withdrawal authorizations. But the group urged regulators to be vigilant.
"There's a clear need for proactive regional planning to ensure wise decisions are being made about how much water can be used, where it can be taken from, and how it should be treated and disposed of," Horne said. "The province needs more comprehensive and transparent water allocation and monitoring systems."
On climate change, Pembina asserted that total GHG emissions in the province's natural gas sector climbed from 7.2 million tons in 1990 and to 13.3 million tons in 2009. During that same time period, the industry increased its share of BC's total emissions from 14% to 21%.
The group warned that even with full implementation of the provincial government's Climate Action Plan, the natural gas sector's GHG pollution would increase to 15% above 2007 levels, despite the province's legislated goal of getting the total 33% below 2007 levels.
"There is a stark contrast between the level of GHG pollution we would reach in this province if shale gas development goes ahead as planned, and the goal that the BC government has legislated," Horne said. "To close this gap the province needs to update its climate change plan and make sure the natural gas sector is part of an overall strategy that will meet the province's obligations."
Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told the Vancouver Sun that the industry had agreed to cooperate on several of the issues contained in the Pembina reports.
"We are going to disclose and be public with all of our water use," Davies said. "We are going to disclose frack and fluid additives. Both are progressive and important steps in having Canadians better understand what we do with this kind of process."
Last week BC Premier Christy Clark said the province would launch an online registry in January for the public to keep track of fracking activities in the province, part of a strategy to provide transparency of shale gas activities (see Shale Daily, Sept 12).
CAPP said it supports the website, but environmental groups said the registry inadequately addresses their concerns and repeated demands for an environmental assessment of shale gas production. The government to date has refused to perform such a study (see Shale Daily, April 20; April 4).