News Release 2012-12-06

 

News Release 2012-12-06

News Release 2012-12-06 (NR2012-11)

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ERCB seeking feedback on a draft hydraulic fracturing directive

For immediate release

Calgary, Alberta (Dec 06, 2012)… The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) is accepting feedback on proposed requirements for hydraulic fracturing activities.

 

Over the last 75 years, the ERCB has developed and enforced regulations to ensure the responsible development of Alberta’s oil and gas resources. Constantly working to improve and ensure the relevancy of all regulations, the ERCB reviews and updates its rules in light of new issues, risks, opportunities, and challenges and adapts as technology, experience, and social expectations have evolved.

The ERCB has reviewed the challenges and opportunities related to the use of hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling in the development of Alberta’s conventional and unconventional oil and gas resources. The ERCB is now seeking feedback on a draft directive that addresses sub-surface issues related to the increasing use of this activity. The draft directive provides clarity on:

  • Preventing interwellbore communication impacts,
  • Ensuring well integrity, and
  • Requirements for wells completed in shallow zones, which apply to any depths shallower than 100 metres below the base of groundwater protection.

Alberta has a long history of regulating safe and responsible oil and gas development. The draft directive builds upon a strong foundation of regulation to address potential risks identified in the ERCB’s review. Surface impacts related to hydraulic fracturing activity will be addressed in the months to come.

Albertans are encouraged to provide feedback on the directive and to help shape the ERCB’s regulations. Feedback on the directive will be accepted until January 18, 2013. Visit www.aer.ca for more information. The ERCB has also produced an animated video that explains the nature of unconventional reservoirs and the process of drilling, completing, and producing from an unconventional well; it pays particular attention to how the ERCB regulates every step.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used to stimulate approximately 171,000 wells since the technology was first introduced in the 1950s. It is one of several well-established methods to enhance the recovery of oil and natural gas deposits by fracturing the underground geological formation.

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For more information, please contact:

Cara Tobin, ERCB Communications
Phone: 403-297-2252
E-mail: Cara.Tobin@ercb.ca
Media line: 1-855-474-6356

NR2012-11

Backgrounder

Hydraulic fracturing is a well completion technique used in the development and recovery of oil and gas resources located in conventional and unconventional formations.

The process consists of injecting large volumes of water and sand, as well as small volumes of chemical additives, at high pressures into oil- and gas-bearing formations. The high-pressure fluid injections create fractures in the rock formation. The sand remains in these fractures, creating a pathway that enables fluids and gas to flow freely into the well. A portion of the injected fluids flow back up to the surface through the well and into storage facilities for containment, transportation, and eventual disposal.

The ERCB is committed to monitoring new oil and gas recovery methods to ensure that they are safe and responsible. For this reason, the ERCB began a review of the operational hazards and associated risks with hydraulic fracturing.

The ERCB’s review identified three specific areas that required further regulatory response: maintaining well integrity, interwellbore communication, and fracturing operations at shallow depths.

Maintaining Well Integrity

Well integrity is lost when damage to casing, cement, or surface equipment has the potential to compromise the proper use of the well and could impact public safety or the environment.
The ERCB has observed that, for hydraulic fracturing operations, there is an emerging trend towards the use of single-barrier wellbore construction instead of dual-barrier construction to provide a secure pathway for fluid injection and recovery from the reservoir. While the ERCB has had no reports of single-barrier well systems losing integrity, the introduction of enhanced regulations will provide an added measure of protection.

The ERCB believes that the risks to well integrity associated with single-barrier well systems can be effectively managed by an operator. The proposed directive requires licensees to demonstrate that operational risks have been considered in the selection and design of the wellbore construction and to monitor and test to ensure that well integrity is maintained.

These testing requirements will provide the ERCB with the appropriate information to monitor and assess the behaviour and responsiveness of single-barrier systems undergoing hydraulic fracturing and readjust requirements if required.

Interwellbore Communication

Interwellbore communication occurs when fluid and/or pressure from hydraulic fracturing operations impact a nearby well. Since 2009, 21 instances of unintentional communication between wells have been reported to the ERCB, resulting in a range of minor impacts to well sites.

To address the risks associated with interwellbore communication, the proposed directive requires licensees to carry out a risk assessment and prepare a risk management plan that prevents unintended interwellbore communications and reduces the impacts if a communication event occurs.

The ERCB believes that prevention and mitigation through proper planning and execution will enable licensees to effectively manage risks associated with interwellbore communication.

Fracturing Operations at Shallow Depths

Water resources are a valuable provincial asset. For this reason, the ERCB takes a cautious and conservative approach to hydraulic fracturing operations conducted at shallow depths above the base of groundwater protection.

Current regulatory requirements for shallow fracturing operations, outlined in Directive 027, focus on shallow zones up to 200 metres below the surface. Given a favourable economic environment, zones between 200 and 600 metres (depths above the base of groundwater protection in many areas) may also be subject to future development.

The ERCB has not confirmed any reported impacts to nonsaline aquifers resulting from hydraulic fracturing operations in either shallow or deep zones. The ERCB’s proposed directive will add even further protection by expanding the requirements currently in Directive 027 to apply to all hydraulic fracturing operations at any depth shallower than 100 metres below the base of groundwater protection.

Under the proposed draft directive, all licensees carrying out hydraulic fracturing operations in this zone must:

  • Carry out a risk assessment and prepare risk management plan, focusing on preventing impacts to nonsaline aquifers, and to complete operations as per that plan
  • Observe prescribed setbacks for water wells.
  • Avoid the use of “toxic” chemical additives or fluid compositions above the base of groundwater protection.