FACTSHEET: Hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 3:37 PM

Hydraulic fracturing is a technological process used to extract natural gas from shale rocks. Shale formations have very small pore spaces and low permeability which makes the flow of gas difficult. Hydraulic fracturing is required to increase the permeability of the rock and to facilitate the movement of gas up a wellbore.

Here are some facts about hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia:

  • Natural gas activities, including hydraulic fracturing are subject to stringent regulations, as well as compliance and enforcement actions by the BC Oil and Gas Commission.
  • The BC Oil and Gas Commission employs hydrologists, agrologists, geologists, reservoir engineers and environmental analysts who ensure industry is following B.C.'s laws and regulations. 
  • The hydraulic fracturing process is primarily used in northeast B.C. where the province's shale gas plays are located - the Horn River Basin, Cordova Embayment and Liard Basin near Fort Nelson; the Montney Play area near Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
  • British Columbia has been a leader in safe, responsible natural gas development for decades. The hydraulic fracturing process was first used in August 1950.
  • B.C. has some of the most up-to-date regulations in the world for shale gas development. Regulations were updated in 2010 in response to the growth in the natural gas sector and the emergence of unconventional gas exploration, such as shale.
  • The Oil and Gas Activities Act is the regulatory framework which was brought into force in 2010. It introduced specific regulations and safety measures to protect the environment. 
  • A requirement introduced was steel and casing for all wells. In B.C., all wells are lined with cement which creates a barrier between extraction procedures and the environment. This protective layer must extend the entire length of the well or to a minimum depth of 600 metres. In addition, an operator is not able to drill a well within 200 metres of a domestic water well. 
  • The hydraulic fracturing injection method takes place far below the location of potable water sources and domestic water wells. Typically, these water sources are between 18-150 metres below the surface.
  • Shale rocks in B.C. are found deep below the surface. For example, shale rocks are located at 1.7 - 4 kilometres (kms) below the surface in the Montney area, and 2.5- 3 kms below the surface in the Horn River Basin. These are the depths where the hydraulic fracturing injection method takes place.
  • In addition to the regulations in place, geological barriers prevent the migration of hydraulic fracturing fluids up to the surface or near potable water sources. There are numerous, naturally impermeable, ductile confining layers between any potable water zone (18 - 150 metres) and the producing hydrocarbon zone (1.7 - 4 kilometres).
  • There has never been a confirmed case of groundwater contamination in B.C. as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
  • The annual water use for natural gas wells in B.C. amount to less than 1% of the the annual water supply, meaning little to no impact to instream flows.  
  • We were the first province in Canada to regulate the public disclosure of additives used for hydraulic fracturing. The website, FracFocus.ca, contains information on the process of hydraulic fracturing and how groundwater is protected. It also stores a public registry where companies upload data about their hydraulic fracturing operations.

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