Fracking blamed in Innisfail well blowout, ERCB assigns fault to Midway Energy but no enforcement ordered because no rules in place at the time

Fracking to blame for well blowout near Innisfail, ‘Company essentially drilled too close to another well bore,’ says Alberta’s energy regulator by CBC News with files from the Canadian Press, December 12, 2012
An investigation into the blowout of a well near Innisfail last January shows fracking was responsible. The blowout spewed nearly 500 barrels of oil and water onto a central Alberta field, affecting 4.5 hectares and requiring the removal of just over 1,000 tonnes of soil and snow. The Energy Resources Conservation Board released the results of its investigation on Wednesday. The board found Midway Energy didn’t follow its own guidelines — which says its drill hole should have been at least 135 metres from any other well — when it began pumping high-pressure fluids underground in an attempt to release oil deposits. “Midway did not conduct the fracturing operation in compliance with its own internal procedures,” concluded the board’s investigation. The result was a geyser of oil, natural gas, process water and fracking fluids from an adjacent well owned by Wild Stream Exploration, which has since been sold and now operates as Raging River Exploration. The mixture tainted the field and left a thin film on nearby trees, but the board concluded ground water wasn’t affected. … “The company essentially drilled too close to another well bore, so it’s really an unusual circumstance where we’d have this type of blowout. So yes, it is bad judgment,” said ERCB spokesman Darin Barter. At the time, there were no provincial guidelines to indicate where it was safe for a company to frack. Barter said no penalties will be handed down because the blowout didn’t contravene any regulations. But as a result of the Midway blowout, Barter said the ERCB has drafted guidelines for fracking in the area that will come into effect in the coming months. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:  New voluntary CAPP guidelines to monitor, respond to earthquakes caused by fracking ]

Update: Fracking blamed in well blowout, ERCB assigns fault to Midway Energy but no enforcement ordered by Dan Healing, December 12, 2012, Calgary Herald
An investigation into a well blowout near Innisfail last January that spewed oily liquid over a farm field concludes it was the fault of a company fracking a neighbouring well. However, no enforcement order is contemplated because the actions of the company were not in violation of Energy Resources Conservation Board regulations at the time. In a report released Wednesday, the ERCB notes that Midway Energy Ltd.’s well completion operations resulted in an increase in pressure in a nearby Wild Stream Exploration Inc. well, causing a release of about 500 barrels of fracturing and formation fluid to surface at the wellhead. It says “communication” between the wells occurred within the same formation about 1,850 metres below the surface and adds the well bores were about 129 metres apart at their closest point. “There’s no enforcement action,” said ERCB spokesman Darin Barter. “At the time, the ERCB didn’t have specific regulations in place that would have prevented this inter-well bore communication from occurring.”

He added the agency responded quickly, however, issuing a bulletin within 10 days that clarified standards expected of companies using fracking, where water, sand and other substances are injected under pressure to break up tight formations and allow trapped oil and gas to flow. Barter added an agency committee was struck to keep track of incidents of communication between wells and it found 21 over the past year, of which five resulted in releases at the surface. Some of those incidents may result in enforcement actions.

Since January, Midway has been sold to Whitecap Resources Inc. for $550 million and Wild Stream was sold to Crescent Point Energy Corp. for $770 million. Joel Armstrong, vice-president of production for Whitecap, said the blowout was caused by operator error and wouldn’t have happened if normal procedures were being followed. “We take into account our trajectory, the angle at which it generally propagates and then, based on the geometry, we shut in and monitor wells in around 500 metres,” he said. “We’ve always done that.” If a competitor’s well is nearby, the procedure is to advise them when fracking is about to occur so that they can shut in and monitor their well. Armstrong said both of the wells in the January event are now producing normally. None of the staff of Midway joined Whitecap through the sale.

In a news release, Alberta NDP environment critic Rachel Notley criticized the government. “The province’s failure to set clear minimum safety standards for fracking activity, combined with its willingness to let industry police itself, means that we can expect more of these serious incidences in the future,” she said. The ERCB investigation concluded that Midway and Wild Stream appropriately managed the incident.

Last week, the ERCB released a draft directive designed to address sub-surface issues related to hydraulic fracturing and invited comment. Notley said the proposed standards are flexible and difficult to enforce, charging that the government “panders to industry” by letting them participate in drafting the directive.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has issued voluntary fracking guidelines for producers across Canada which urge the use of additives with the least environmental risks, protection of groundwater, and disclosure of fracking fluid additives. The ERCB said hydraulic fracturing has been used to stimulate 171,000 wells since the technology was first introduced in the 1950s. In August, the Alberta NDP called for an independent scientific probe of fracking and said that more than five million cubic metres of fresh water were allocated for the practice in Alberta in 2011. [Emphasis added]

ERCB [previously EUB, name changed after the regulator was caught spying on Albertans, and breaking the law; soon to be AER] Releases Investigation Report on Hydraulic Fracturing Blowout near Innisfail  Press Release by ERCB, December 12, 2012
The ERCB’s investigation into the incident concludes that Midway Energy’s hydraulic fracturing operation resulted in an increase in pressure in a nearby Wild Stream Exploration Inc. well, causing a release of fluid to surface at the Wild Stream wellhead. Communication between the two wells occurred within the same formation at a depth of approximately 1850 metres below the surface. The wellbores were approximately 129 metres apart at their closest point. The fracturing in formation created by Midway’s hyraulic fracturing operation resulted in communication pathways between the two wells and resultant pressure increase in the Wildstream well resulted in a release of fracturing and formation fluids to surface. The ERCB investigation concludes that Midway and Wild Stream appropriately managed the incident, mitigated potential environmental damage, and disposed of the oilfield waste in compliance with regulatory standards and that the incident did not impact the public, livestock, groundwater, or surface water bodies. On January 23, 2012, the ERCB issued Bulletin 2012-02: Hydraulic Fracturing: Interwellbore Communication between Energy Wells in response to the incident. Subsequently, on December 6, 2012, the ERCB released a draft directive that addresses sub-surface issues related to hydraulic fracturing, including the prevention of interwellbore communication, well integrity and well completions in shallow zones. Incidents of this nature are very rare. [Emphasis added]

ERCB Investigation Report: Midway Hydraulic Fracturing Incident, January 13, 2012 by ERCB, December 12, 2012.
Media reported that a member of the public was unable to access the ERCB’s 24-hour emergency number. … The root cause of this incident was the fact that the planned fracture stimulation size was too large for the separation distance between the two wells. … Further, on behalf of Midway, Peregrine Environmental Services met with Alberta Health Services representatives to collect samples from eight water wells within 1300 m of the spill site, which were analyzed for hydrocarbons (F1–F4 and BTEX), nitrates, and nitrites. The samples were tested for hydrocarbons because the hydraulic fracturing fluid was diesel-based, and nitrate and nitrite tests were requested by Alberta Health Services. The results indicated no elevated levels, and the data was shared with the landowners. Water and soil testing, as well as other remediation operations, are ongoing and under the jurisdiction of ESRD, whose own investigation has not yet been completedat the time of this report. … Misting on the grove of trees, potential damage to other vegetation, soil, surface, and groundwater continues to be monitored under the jurisdiction of ESRD. …

Wild Stream noticed that the inlet gas measurement at the battery recorded a sudden increase in gas production at the battery at 3:00 p.m. The compressor went down and could not be restarted. It was later determined that the fuel gas supply had been contaminated with nitrogen gas, which was a component of the Midway fracturing fluids. Soon after, the oil treater vessel was unable to maintain an oil/water interface and started dumping emulsion through the water leg into the produced water tank at the battery. Treater samples collected later that evening revealed indicated that it had been contaminated with fracturing fluids, causing it not to function properly. Midway did not notify Wild Stream before beginning its fracturing operations at the Midway well. If the horizontal well path based on the survey was known, Wild Stream would have evaluated the horizontal leg against existing production facilities and shut in those locations during fracturing operations. The ERCB notes that at the time of the incident, there was no regulatory requirement mandating that Midway notify licensees of nearby wells of its intent to conduct fracturing operations. …

On April 11, 2012, Enform Safety Alert #04-2012 – Over Pressured Fracture Operation Results in Spill was issued. This is a communication tool for industry to bring better awareness of potential safety hazards. … Further, as a direct result of this incident, the ERCB released Bulletin 2012-02 – Hydraulic Fracturing: Interwellbore Communication between Energy Well dated January 23, 2012…. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: 171,000 frac’d wells later, the Alberta energy regulator, the ERCB (previously EUB – before it got caught breaking the law, and spying on innocent Albertans; soon to be AER) trots out Draft Hydraulic Fracturing Directive ]

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