The prospect of using hydraulic fracturing to develop western Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil resources is new to the province.
While oil development itself is not new — it has, after all, helped turn our home into one of the strongest economic performers in the country — hydraulic fracturing has not been used extensively in our province. So it’s only reasonable the public has questions about what this means to the province.
To address some of the questions people have about hydraulic fracturing, it is instructive to look at the experience of other provinces, where hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for many decades to produce natural gas and oil.
Hydraulic fracturing is the technology used to unlock oil and natural gas in deep rock formations. The technology has been used throughout North America since the 1940s. It has become more widely known about a decade ago when multi-stage hydraulic fracturing (fracturing a well at several intervals) and horizontal drilling made the recovery of natural gas and oil in deep rock formations, such as shale and tight sand, technically and economically feasible.
In Canada, the most common application of hydraulic fracturing is in the western provinces. It is also used safely in New Brunswick to tap into that province’s onshore natural gas resources.
In Alberta and British Columbia, more than 175,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured over the past 60 years without impacting drinking water, according to government regulators. In New Brunswick, there have been no reports of drinking water contamination related to the 49 hydraulic fracturing operations that have taken place since 1985.
There is also a growing body of scientific research that shows hydraulic fracturing poses no risk to drinking water. Preliminary results from an ongoing U.S. federal study, for example, indicate there is no evidence hydraulic fracturing contaminates drinking water.
The success of safe hydraulic fracturing operations in Canada is the result of a robust regulatory system that is keeping pace with evolving technology and industry best operating practices that are developed and implemented by the well-trained professionals in our industry. Before any hydraulic fracturing occurs in Newfoundland and Labrador, as part of the regulatory approval process, environmental assessments include an evaluation of drinking water, species at risk and coastal wildlife. Our member companies will only use industry best operating practices that meet or exceed regulatory requirements.
Our operating practices for hydraulic fracturing apply across Canada. Released in 2012, they identify sound wellbore construction as fundamental to protecting groundwater sources. The practices also support disclosure of fracturing fluid additives and development of fracturing fluid additives with the least environmental risks, and they commit member operators to measuring and disclosing water use with the goal of continuing to reduce environmental impact.
These practices were developed collectively by Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) member companies, and we expect the practices to inform and complement regulatory requirements.
For example, disclosure of fracturing fluid additives is mandatory in B.C. and Alberta, and can be found online at FracFocus.ca. The New Brunswick government is also requiring mandatory disclosure.
We welcome and support these efforts, and we look forward to further discussions with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador as it continues its comprehensive review of hydraulic fracturing and related regulations and guidance in other jurisdictions.
The reason for this is simple: by following these practices, and by supporting regulators in adopting similar measures, we improve public understanding of how our industry works and our commitment to safe and responsible development of Canada’s oil and natural gas resources.
In this regard, CAPP member companies also work to reduce the impact of our operations on other industries. For example, the offshore industry in Newfoundland and Labrador has built a constructive relationship with the fishing industry in the province through a forum called One Ocean, an organization that facilitates the sharing of information between both industries. We are confident that we can establish an equally constructive relationship with the tourism industry. We understand the value and importance of this industry to western Newfoundland and Labrador and agree that tourism is an integral part of the economy, culture and life in the area.
Public confidence in our industry is vital to continuing to access and develop oil and natural gas resources for the owners of the resource — in this case, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s important that people have all the facts as they participate in the important, ongoing discussion about energy resources.
Paul Barnes is manager for Atlantic
Canada with the Canadian Association
of Petroleum Producers.