Technical Report

Executive Editor’s Note

We are excited to start a new section in this issue of JCPT. As you know, all the technical papers published in the journal are peer reviewed. The primary principle behind the SPE peer-review process is to provide a fair and timely technical review to identify the most meaningful technical papers that contribute to the development of petroleum technology.

However, not all significant pieces of technical work are submitted for peer review. There are many good quality, relevant technical reports produced by non-profit Canadian research organizations that would benefit our readers. We will highlight some of the research conducted by these organizations in every issue, starting with the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) this month. I should emphasize again that these highlights are not peer reviewed by JCPT, but we think that they are of interest to our readership.

I hope you enjoy reading this new section of JCPT and that it becomes a vehicle for you to further investigate significant technical work conducted by these organizations. We also welcome your feedback regarding the new initiative as well as any other aspect of JCPT.

Gökhan Coskuner

Chairman, JCPT

Introduction

PTAC is a not-for-profit organization that was created to promote collaborative research and technology development for the Canadian hydrocarbon energy industry. This organization’s mandate is to facilitate innovation, collaborative research and technology development, demonstration and deployment for a responsible Canadian hydrocarbon energy industry.

The following article discusses a recent report on the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Completed by PTAC and the Scientific and Community Environmental Knowledge (SCEK) Fund, research was prompted by current public concern for protection of the environment and drinking water as a result of this technology. Research was conducted with support provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and its member companies, and the Canadian Society of Unconventional Resources (CSUR). 

PTAC History. In 1996, downsizing and tight budgets resulted in a dramatic decrease in research and development spending in the oil and gas industry. The Vice President’s Breakfast Club, an informal organization comprised of executives from 25 Canadian oil companies, soon recognized that a new model for developing technology was required. PTAC was created at that time to be a neutral organization with the goal of increasing research and development capacity through increased collaboration among all industry stakeholders. Through this model, issues from multiple stakeholders have been identified, and many consortia have been launched, achieving significant financial leveraging, reducing duplication of effort, and pooling resources on non-competitive issues.

PTAC was founded on the belief that the application of new and better technologies will improve oil and gas recovery, lower costs, make operations safer, and reduce the impact on the environment. PTAC believes that these goals are best achieved when all industry stakeholder groups work together in a structured way to identify industry problems and define research projects and technological solutions to address them.

With 17 years of experience in collaborative research and development, including the recent emphasis on field projects and technology deployment, PTAC stands as a model for transforming challenges into opportunities within Canada’s hydrocarbon industry.

PTAC’s network is comprised of approximately 200 member organizations representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders: oil and gas producers, transporters, government bodies, research providers, venture capital firms, academic institutions, individuals, as well as service and supply companies. PTAC producer members produce approximately 80% of Canadian conventional oil and gas. On the other end of the spectrum, more than 150 member companies are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and companies represent the engine behind innovation and development of technologies. PTAC’s intention is to be a bridge between SMEs and producer members to ensure they stay abreast of one another’s innovations and foster collaboration among all stakeholders. PTAC also has more than 340 volunteer technical experts serving 71 industry-led consortia and projects. PTAC has successfully completed over 370 industry-led projects that helped develop technology, policy, and best practices, while the execution of over 450 PTAC events has helped identify challenges, investigate technology solutions, and disseminate research and technology results.

From the beginning, PTAC has stood by its mission to facilitate innovation, collaborative research and technology development, demonstration, and deployment for a responsible Canadian hydrocarbon energy industry.  PTAC continues to further this mission today, envisioning a future in which Canada is a global leader in hydrocarbon energy technology.  

Soheil Asgarpour, PhD, P.Eng
PTAC President

The Modern Practices of Hydraulic Fracturing: A Focus on Canadian Resources

The Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada

Tremendous natural gas resource potential has been identified in shale basins in western Canada. Producing natural gas from these areas has become economically feasible principally because of technological advancements in horizontal drilling, innovative earth imaging, and the use of hydraulic fracturing. It is the combining of these technologies that has revitalized the oil and gas industry in North America over the last 2 decades.  It should be noted that hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has been safely used since the 1950s, but there has been limited scientific evaluation of the potential risks to the environment.

Recognizing the public concern for protection of the environment, including the drinking water, the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) and the Scientific and Community Environmental Knowledge (SCEK) Fund initiated research into the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Research was conducted with support provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and its member companies, and the Canadian Society of Unconventional Resources (CSUR). 

The report on this project is intended to serve as a primer on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production from shales in Canada. This primer has been compiled to provide a review of the practice of hydraulic fracturing and its importance to the development of Canadian shale oil and natural gas resource plays. The primer addresses the technology involved with hydraulic fracturing, chemicals used in the fracturing process, variations in North American shale geology, oil and gas regulations, best management practices, potential pathways of fluid migration and the risks involved, and past incidents attributed to hydraulic fracturing. The intent of the primer is to provide a baseline of information that illustrates that no two shales are alike, understanding and designing a fracture requires specific data that must be collected and analyzed, technology has made many shale gas resources available for extraction but only in the last few years, regulations are in place to protect groundwater and the environment, best management practices are employed by industry, and the risks of contamination from the act of hydraulic fracturing are negligible.

TOPICS

The primer addresses the following topics:
  • Technological Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing Methods
  • Best Management Practices
  • Chemical Use in Hydraulic Fracturing
  • North American Shale Geology
  • Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations
  • Major Pathways of Fluid Migration
  • Incidents Reported to be Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing

The report contains an extensive set of references.  Information from these US and Canadian sources was compiled and analyzed to produce the discussion and results in this primer.

TECHNOLOGY

Hydraulic fracturing makes possible the production of oil and natural gas in areas where conventional technologies have proven ineffective.  Hydraulic fracturing is a highly engineered, modelled, and monitored process, using precisely selected types and volumes of chemicals to improve performance. These chemicals typically make up less than 1% of fracturing fluid.  Experience and continued research have improved the effectiveness of the process and allowed the use of reduced chemical volumes and more environmentally benign chemicals.  The public rightly expects producers and service companies to conduct hydraulic fracturing operations in a way that safeguards the environment and human health.  Many of the concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing are related to the production of oil and gas and can be associated with the development of a well, but are not directly related to the act of hydraulic fracturing.  It is important to distinguish those impacts that can potentially be attributed to hydraulic fracturing from those that cannot so that mitigation measures and regulatory requirements can be directed toward the proper activities and responsible parties.

BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

While the environmental risks associated with oil and gas development—including the practice of hydraulic fracturing—are small because of advanced technology and regulation, the use of best management practices (BMPs) can reduce and mitigate those risks that remain. Most of the commonly used BMPs identified for hydraulic fracturing and oilfield operations address issues at the surface.  These include reducing impacts to noise, visual, and air resources and impacts to water sources, wildlife, and wildlife habitats.  There are also several BMPs that can be used to mitigate risks associated with the subsurface environment.  BMPs are generally voluntary, site specific, and proactive in nature. They are most effective when incorporated during the early stages of a development project.

CHEMICAL USE

The report identifies the potential hydraulic fracturing chemicals that would be used in Canadian shale plays by analyzing the chemicals used in analogous US shale plays. This data was collected from the voluntary reporting of chemicals used by multiple US operators and service companies through the FracFocus

Chemical Disclosure Registry at FracFocus.org, and through private communication with operators in various basins in the US. Water volume data was also gathered and analyzed from the same sources. Understanding the volumes and types of chemicals anticipated for the various shales across Canada can lead to a reduction in the number and volume of chemicals used. In addition, the Province of British Columbia and many US states are requiring public disclosure of the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing through both laws and regulations.

GEOLOGY

There is no specific recipe for an ideal shale basin. However, the right combinations of geologic and hydrocarbon properties can make oil and gas production of a shale formation commercially viable. While each shale basin is different, geologic analogues to Canadian shale basins can be found in commercially producing US basins, suggesting technical and operational approaches to producing oil and gas from the Canadian shales.

REGULATION

Regulation of hydraulic fracturing has been carried out for decades in Canada under existing federal, provincial, and territorial regulations.  Requirements for surface casing, cementing, groundwater protection, and pressure testing have been prevalent in most regulatory regimes, all of which are directly applicable to the minimization of risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. The federal government regulates oil and gas activities on frontier lands, certain offshore and territorial lands, and those lands set aside for the First Nations people.

Each Province with oil and gas production has its own specific regulations governing these requirements. In addition, the government of the Yukon Territory has powers similar to those of a provincial government. While there is no current shale gas development in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, there are regulations in place that would cover such development.

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING RISK ANALYSIS

In order to assess the potential risks to groundwater associated with hydraulic fracturing, the report identifies and analyzes the pathways through which contamination could theoretically occur.  This analysis considered only the subsurface pathways that would potentially result from the hydraulic fracturing operations, and not those events that may occur in other phases of oil and gas development.  Five potential pathways were examined:

  • Vertical fractures created during hydraulic fracturing.
  • An existing conduit (e.g., natural vertical fractures or old abandoned wellbores) providing a pathway for injected fluid to reach a freshwater zone.
  • Intrusion into a fresh water zone during hydraulic fracturing on the basis of poor construction of the well being fractured.
  • Operating practices performed during well injection.
  • Migration of hydraulic fracturing fluids from the fracture zone to a fresh water zone.

Analysis of each of these pathways demonstrates that it is highly improbable that fracture fluids or reservoir fluids would migrate from the production zone to a freshwater source as a result of hydraulic fracturing.

REPORTED INCIDENTS

Numerous instances of environmental contamination across North America have been attributed in the popular media to hydraulic fracturing. In fact, the process of hydraulic fracturing has not been documented to be the cause of any of these incidents. The term “hydraulic fracturing” is often confused, purposefully or inadvertently, with the entire development lifecycle. Environmental contamination can result from a multitude of activities that are part of the oil and gas exploration and production process, but none have been attributed to the act of hydraulic fracturing. This report presents a summary of many of those incidents, along with information that shows why they have not been caused by hydraulic fracturing, or why further study is needed to determine a cause.

KEY FINDINGS

  • The regulatory framework in Canada maintained by the federal, territorial, and provincial authorities is protective of groundwater and responsibly regulates the construction and stimulation treatment of oil and gas wells. 
  • The shale gas industry is adequately regulated with the current framework of regulations nationwide.
  • Numerous best management practices exist to help mitigate exposure and contamination risks from hydraulic fracturing and related activities.
  • Hydraulic fracture fluid generally consists of 99.5% water and sand with only 0.5% chemicals.
  • The probability of contamination of groundwater during the injection process of hydraulic fracturing in a properly constructed well is very low to negligible.
  • There have been no documented instances of groundwater contamination that resulted from the hydraulic fracturing process. 

The full report is available at:
http://www.ptac.org/ and http://www.all-llc.com/page.php?92