Fracking Companies Must Come Clean with New Brunswick: Questions Must Be Answered
The Canadian Province of New Brunswick embraces several significant masses of brittle, highly carboniferous shales, attractive targets for exploitation by companies seeking natural gas production. A question worth asking is the following: can this resource be exploited in an environmentally safe manner? A trivial analysis and easy answer could be NO! or YES! We need to look at the local geological details that exist in New Brunswick —this is not North Dakota, this is not Texas. The following blog looks at some of the issues and specific questions that need to be asked and answered before the public can assess environmental and societal impacts.
New Brunswick Shale Resource
Lower Carboniferous shales in New Brunswick contain high concentrations of organic material – remains of marine algae that leave behind a variety of organic molecules that are transformed over time into hydrocarbons. Whether there are sufficient volumes of organic material and whether the organic molecules have been transformed remains to be seen. Oil and gas companies that hold hydrocarbon leases in New Brunswick have likely explored the organic material and its chemistry under their leases. It will be very important to analyze how the organic material is distributed, whether it is homogeneous throughout hundreds of meters of shale or whether it is concentrated in pancake-like “sweet-spots”. Organic content and geochemistry will determine the methane content of the shales, dictate the fracking “recipe”, and determine how many horizontal wells will be drilled in each hectare. There is no doubt that organic-rich shales are present in New Brunswick but are they extensive enough to be exploitable in a way that earns oil and gas companies a profit?
New Brunswick Shale Development
Exploitative strategies aimed to extract crude oil and natural gas from shale vary across North America. Determining factors are depth, thickness, and geochemistry. It is the duty of the oil and gas companies to publicize their shale data and explain their exploitation plans. Their plans must include all of the following aspects:
- Seismic exploration program. What kind of seismic (vibro-seis, dynamite, etc.) and which areas will be examined? Depending upon how much energy is put into the ground, both types of seismic can damage water wells, foundations, and structures. This must be planned for.
- Exploration drilling. How many wells will be drilled per lease block? How will each well be tested? How will the various recovered fluids (waste water, oil, gas, etc.) be dealt with? Will natural gas be “vented”? How will waste water be disposed of? How will drilling wastes be disposed of?
- Specific development. How many wells will be drilled per hectare? Will tanks be located at each well or will pipelines carry fluids to central batteries? How will access roads be routed? How many natural gas compressors will be needed per hectare to efficiently harvest the resources? What is the planned off-set of wells and compressors from homes, barns, and schools? How often are production facilities inspected? Are tanks equipped with automatic shut-down devises? Are pipelines equipped with automatic leak detection?
- Waste water management. What is the expected chemistry of the waste water? Will this waste water be trucked off? How many trucks per day of waste water will need to be removed? Where does the waste water go? How many total truck-miles -per-day do you plan on for your development? How many disposal wells will be needed in the Province if the government were to reverse itself and allow disposal wells to be permitted? Who will manage them?
- Drilling wastes. Will oil and gas companies use water-based or oil-based drilling mud? Will waste drilling mud be buried on-site or moved to a central facility? Will drilling waste be recycled?
- Will any of the wastes generated by the shale gas business be radioactive? Frequently filtrate, scale, and drilling wastes contain significant amounts of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM); occasionally these wastes are threats to human health. Will this be the case in New Brunswick and how will those NORM wastes be managed?
New Brunswick Regulatory Implications
It is obvious in the other shale gas basins that government regulators are heavily burdened, especially if development is wide-spread. How will the Province cope with this new industry? Who will pay for the added personnel? Shale gas development causes wear and tear on provincial secondary roads; who pays for this added cost to the Province?
An industrial activity such as wide-spread shale gas development usually requires that an Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) be done by the members of the industry. Impacts to air, water, soil, wildlife, and the public are carefully quantified. Such a survey will state these and other questions as well as many others and especially will provide detailed site-specific answers. The EIS is made available to the public by way of mass distribution and multiple public presentations and hearings. Without the full site-specific facts, government and citizens cannot make meaningful decisions about shale gas development in New Brunswick.
Salt Water Disposal Institute
Bruce Langhus, PhD
Marian M. Langhus, PhD