Hydraulic Fracturing 101

Lynsey Kitching

Wellsite in northeastern BC.
On October 25, the Oil and Gas Commission of BC (OGC) came to town to talk about hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. There were four people from town who showed up, including Councillor Tim Snyder. A few representatives from OGC came to do a presentation about the process of fracking, with a focus on water usage and the environment. Specifically, as requested by council, how fracking could affect the aquifer used by Tumbler Ridge.
Mayka Kennedy, Chief Engineer for the OGC came to talk about the basic premise of fracking. Tumbler Ridge is located on the edge of the Montney basin, an area with lots of natural gas extraction potential, which also includes Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. Natural gas makes up 24.8 percent of Canada’s total energy consumption, as of 2008.
Kennedy explained hydraulic fracturing to be a relatively new method used by gas companies to extract natural gas from deep within the earth and it is considered to be unconventional. It is a process of transmitting pressure by fluid or gas to create cracks or to open existing cracks in hydrocarbon bearing rocks underground.
The construction in a nutshell is that a well is built at ground level and surrounded with cement. This cement bearing is theoretically supposed to protect the environment, i.e. aquifers from getting contaminated by the chemical water. As long as construction is done properly and no cracks occur to the concrete bearings, no contamination to aquifers or vegetation should occur.
Then, a hole is dug two km down through earth and rock. The pipe then turns horizontally and is capped at the end. There could be multiple horizontal tubes, which all connect up to the one well at the top. Once the structure has been created, the process starts. By sending down water at a high pressure, small holes in the horizontal tube let some water. At this high pressure, this causes fractures in the rock around the tube and causes the rock to release natural gas. The gas then flows back up the well.
During the process at most 80 percent of the water used stays down in the earth, but it can range from 80 to 40 percent. The water being used for fracking is 99.51 percent water and sand and 0.49 percent different types of chemicals. The water that comes back up is not considered to be usable again, except for more fracking.
Temporary storage requirements from the OGC state that storage must prevent discharge to the environment and be monitored regularly. Many companies recycle the water because it is very expensive for them to dispose of the contaminated water. There is one company that is coming close to having the technology to filter the water so it could be used for irrigation.
Allan Chapman, Hydrologist for OGC talked about water usage in fracking. He explained for the Montney play, there is 8,000 to 30,000 meters cubed of water needed per well. The average annual runoff in Montney is 16.6 billion meters cubed. Chapman explained the wells in the Montney play basin use about 0.06 percent of the average annual runoff.
The possible water sources for fracking wells are surface water, shallow groundwater, deep groundwater, flowback and other methods. Surface water (freshwater, lakes, dugouts) is the most used source and is used about 65 percent of the time, the other sources are used as follows; 10 percent shallow groundwater, 10 percent deep groundwater, 15 percent flowback fluids and 10 percent is other methods not explained.
The presentation provided by the OGC was well received by Councillor Tim Snyder. After the presentation he said, “Personally, I thought it was a very good presentation. It eased my mind about how fracing was going to hurt our aquifer. I believe from what they presented, it doesn’t look like there is any reason to be concerned, but I still have to do some more research. I would like to check out their records and what they’ve done, if something happened, and what has come from that.”
Councillor Snyder feels the presentation did a good job of outlining the information asked for. However, if the town discovers information that would threaten Tumbler’s water source, fracking would not be an option here. Councillor Snyder says, “If we have concerns about that whatsoever, we would be dead against any fracking.”
This was an overview of the presentation provided by the OGC and the process of hydraulic fracturing. There will be more stories about fracking to follow in the upcoming issues. For more information about the process, visit www.bcogc.ca.