Quebec seeks ways to eliminate the use of water in “hydro fracking” in shale gas formations

Quebec seeks ways to eliminate the use of water in “hydro fracking” in shale gas formations by Robert Gibbens, October 22, 2012, The Montreal Gazette
Nothing would please Quebec’s oil and gas industry more than rapid advances in technologies that could eliminate the use of water in “hydro fracking” or cracking open naturally occurring fissures in deep-lying shale gas formations. “Yes, we’re up-to-date on these developments mostly in the United States and if they lead to what’s called the ‘waterless frack,’ that would help hasten the future development of Quebec’s shale gas and its energy balance,” former Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard and president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association, said Monday. Bouchard, who opened the Association’s 4th annual conference. is a strong advocate of shale gas development, with environmental safeguards. He has criticized Resources Minister Martine Ouellet’s statement that she “cannot foresee a day when there’ll be a technology allowing safe exploitation of shale gas.”

Later, after addressing the conference, Ouellet argued there must be more transparency, deeper analysis and more study of the environmental impact of shale gas projects. “They must balance community and corporate interests carefully,” she said. Shale gas projects in Quebec are subject to a moratorium until at least late 2013 when a provincial environmental review is due for release.

The water use is the most sensitive environmental issue in the St. Lawrence Lowlands, where Quebec’s shale gas reserves lie. They are an extension from the Utica shales of the Northeastern U.S. and were first discovered in 1989. Since then, more than $200 million has been invested in 31 wells. The advanced technologies Bouchard mentioned are not yet proven. One Houston company has a blasting system using 95 per cent inert nitrogen and five per cent water, while an Alberta firm has a waterless fracking technique using liquid petroleum gas. Another U.S. firm is testing the use of air jets on the drillhead to eliminate water usage; another uses liquid helium to open existing fissures — it increases many hundred times in volume when transitioning from a liquid to a gas. Michael Binnion, geologist and CEO of Questerre Energy Corp., a pioneer in Quebec shale gas exploration, said the “waterless frack” may take much more time to develop, but existing methods of extraction are in “constant progression.” The amounts of water used and the risks of water-table pollution are being steadily reduced. “We use 3D seismic technology to map the deposit and steel casing and cement seal the well from the watertable,” he said. … But the industry needs a clear set of operating rules, he said, and it opposes any ministerial pressure in the provincial environmental review. “The volumes are there and development could lower Quebec’s gas prices, but exploration will return only slowly even with a realistic environmental report late next year.” [Emphasis added]

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