Brief review of threats to groundwater from the oil and gas industry and hydraulic fracturing: A Canadian perspective
(A previous version was submitted to The NY Department of Environmental Conservation, January 11, 2012)
Groundwater is a critical resource for nearly 600,000 Albertans and 10-million Canadians. Yetgood data on aquifers and groundwater quality remains sparse. In 2005 Dr. John Carey, DirectorGeneral of the National Water Research Institute, told the Standing Senate Committee on Energy,the Environment and Natural Resources that “We would not manage our bank accounts withoutmonitoring what was in them.”
Alberta and Canada now manage their groundwater this way.Activities of the oil and gas industry greatly impact groundwater. According to a 2002 workshopsponsored by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, drilling sumps, flare-pits,spills and ruptured pipelines as well as leaky abandoned oil and gas wells can all act as localsources of groundwater contamination. Given that little is known about the long-term integrity of concrete seals and steel casings in 600,000 abandoned hydrocarbon wells in Canada, the studyadded that the industry’s future impact on groundwater could be immense. The paper concludedthat unconventional natural gas drilling such as coalbed methane (CBM) posed a real threat togroundwater quality and quantity, and that the nation needs “baseline hydrogeologicalinvestigations in coalbed methane….to be able to recognize and track groundwater contaminants.”
Not until nine years later on September 21 2011, did the Canadian government announce that itwould initiate two reviews to determine whether hydraulic fracturing is harming the environment.
These are not investigations or studies.2.
Recent government documents acquired under the
to Information Act
by Ottawa researcherKen Rubin revealed that “Canadians are currently facing serious groundwater quality andavailability issues…..There is no visible federal water policy agenda nor a common agenda for thewhole country.” To date only three of eight key regional aquifers have been mapped and that onlyeleven of 30 key aquifers will be assessed for “volume, vulnerability and sustainability by 2010.”At this current rate of progress it will take another 28 years to develop a basic National Inventory of groundwater resources.
A 2007 review of Alberta groundwater programs by the Rosenberg International Forum on WaterPolicy declared Alberta’s groundwater policies “inadequate” and reported a “lack of comprehensive monitoring systems.” The report added that “exploitation of Alberta’s energyresources is proceeding at a pace much faster than had been anticipated” but that there had been noparallel acceleration in the protection of water resources. A monitoring network “is the last line of defense against contamination by industries that are essential to the economic future of theprovince.”
In 1987, the EPA documented that hydraulic fracturing by industry had contaminatedgroundwater.
The New York Times’ Ian Urbina reported that many more cases were sealed bysettlements and confidentiality agreements.
In 2010, the Canadian oil and gas industryadvertised:“Fact: Fracturing has not been found to have caused damage to groundwater resources”
andEnCana advertised: “In use for more than 60 years throughout the oil and gas industry, there are no
Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, November, 2005
l, Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 2003
Fakete and Penty, 2011
Natural Resources Canada, January 2006
Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, February 2007
Canadian Natural Gas, 2010