Project type: Energy
Project location: Peace Region, NE BC
The Geoscience BC Peace Project is acquiring, interpreting, and sharing new baseline scientific information about groundwater resources in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia.
Groundwater is poorly understood in the Peace region of northeastern BC, an area busy with unconventional natural gas development. 'Unconventional' means a combination of vertical and horizontal drilling, together with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and is required to access the gas within the tight rock. The project has been undertaken to ensure that the location of potential aquifers within the region are known, and to help First Nations, energy companies, and communities make better decisions on groundwater use and protection. Without rigorous scientific studies to record the baseline characteristics of these aquifers, it is impossible to make sound, informed decisions about their use and protection.
The Peace Project is designed to:
- Acquire and interpret geophysical data to learn more about groundwater in the Peace region
- Generate baseline information to guide the use and protection of groundwater in the region
- Freely provide baseline information to First Nations, communities, government and industry to help make informed groundwater management decisions.
The Peace Project is the first large-scale effort to map northeastern BC's groundwater, using helicopters carrying geophysical equipment. The geophysical data and knowledge generated by the project will help to identify the potential location of shallow aquifers in the region. Collecting information across a wide geographic area allows scientists to map potential aquifers in the region. Regulators may use this independent baseline information to create policies to protect groundwater resources in the region.
Peace Project partners
The Peace Project is supported by a number of partners, including the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, the BC Oil & Gas Commission, the Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources, Progress Energy Canada Ltd., ConocoPhillips Canada, Northern Development Initiative Trust, and the BC Oil & Gas Research and Innovation Society. It has additional support from the Peace River Regional District and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The Peace project covers 8,000 km2, an area roughly a quarter the size of Vancouver Island. The selected area covers the northern part of the Montney play, an area of enormous natural gas potential. The National Energy Board (NEB) estimates that "the thick and geographically extensive siltstones of the Montney Formation are expected to contain 12,719 billion m³ (449 Tcf) of marketable natural gas, 2,308 million m³ (14,521 million barrels) of marketable natural gas liquids (NGLs), and 179 million m³ (1,125 million barrels) of marketable oil."
Natural gas development involves drilling vertical wells to a depth of approximately 3 km, then drilling a horizontal leg of 1-3 km in length away from the vertical well bore. The horizontal leg is then hydraulically fractured to access the gas within the tight rock. As these techniques have advanced in the last 15 years, it has become possible to economically develop this extensive, unconventional siltstone resource. Energy companies, such as Progress Energy, Conoco-Phillips and Painted Pony, have been active in the Montney in recent years.
Given ongoing natural gas development, First Nations and local communities are all interested in finding out more about the groundwater resources beneath their feet and ensuring that the resource is used responsibly.
How was the data collected?
During July and August 2015, a helicopter completed a large electromagnetic geophysical survey over an 8,000 km2 section of the Peace region between Hudson's Hope, Charlie Lake and Pink Mountain. A giant hoop (16m x 28 m) suspended below the helicopter collected information about how well the rocks and water below the earth's surface respond to very small amounts of electricity. The power source was a car battery. Similar in some ways to a medical CAT scan, the survey was able to produce virtual, two-dimensional 'slices' through the earth without digging or drilling. The survey flew 20,999 line kilometres along 250 metre spaced lines.
This geophysical data was processed to create 2D sections showing the response of the earth to the small electrical current emanating from the 'flying hoop' down to about 350 metres below the surface. The researchers matched the colourful 'blobs' on the cross sections with real earth materials. Layers of salty groundwater, for example, conduct electricity well and may be shown as blue blobs, whereas sandy or gravel layers may resist the electrical current and appear as red blobs.
Consultants also looked at drill logs from existing petroleum boreholes and water wells, as well as maps of surface materials, to calibrate the findings of the geophysical survey. In 2017, eight shallow wells were drilled and 'logged' to see how well the predictions made using the aerial survey data match the reality of underground conditions. 'Logging' a well involves lowering specialized instruments into the wellbore and taking measurement of many different geophysical properties such as radioactivity and resistivity.
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