A properly constructed natural gas well protects our water.
Taking water seriously
Fresh water is an important resource. That’s why government and industry work hard to ensure it is used and protected in a responsible manner. In fact, the natural gas industry has developed guiding principles and operating practices for hydraulic fracturing that demonstrate our commitment to responsible water use and management (read more here). More than 175,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured in Alberta and British Columbia over the past 60 years with no evidence of groundwater contamination, according to regulators in both provinces.
Although hydraulic fracturing operations use large volumes of water only at the drilling stage, according to the 2011 National Round Table on the Environment and Economy Report Charting a Course: Sustainable Water Use by Canada’s Natural Resource Sector (read more here), the oil and gas sector uses relatively little water nationally compared to other industries in the natural resource sector. After that a well will produce for 20 to 30 years with no additional water requirements over the life of the well.
Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale gas are highly regulated processes with a proven track record of safety that ensures water is protected. Each wellbore has steel casing that is cemented externally to prevent gas or liquid from migrating into groundwater. According to Natural Resources Canada (read more here), at an average depth of two kilometres, bound by rock and several hundred metres below the deepest fresh water aquifers, the production pipe is perforated to allow natural gas to flow into the pipe and rise to the surface for collection and processing.
Numerous protective measures are in place at well sites, including liners under well pads, rubber composite mats under rigs, storage tanks with secondary containment measures and barriers, to control any potential runoff at the site. Spill prevention, response and cleanup procedures are implemented before drilling begins, and they are continually updated as operations progress.
Reuse and fresh water alternatives
While the primary source of water for hydraulic fracturing is currently fresh surface water, industry is researching ways to reduce its fresh water use through alternatives, such as brackish groundwater, saline groundwater, municipal wastewater, flowback or produced water (from other natural gas wells). The fluid that flows back to the wellbore after hydraulic fracturing is completed (i.e., flowback) is frequently treated and reused for hydraulic fracturing at other natural gas wells.