Yukon missing essential groundwater information: BC hydrologist Giles Wendling, much more knowledge needed before impact of fracing can be properly assessed

Yukon missing essential groundwater information: hydrologist, The Yukon needs a better understanding of its groundwater system before the government gives hydraulic fracturing a green light by Ainslie Cruickshank, January 31, 2014, Whitehorse Star
The Yukon legislative select committee tasked with studying hydraulic fracturing opened two days of hearings this morning. The committee is being chaired by Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod of Watson Lake, seated second from left on the bottom row (left).
GAPS IN KNOWLEDGE – Hydrologist Gilles Wendling told the select committee this morning, much more knowledge is needed before the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing in the Yukon can be properly assessed. The Yukon needs a better understanding of its groundwater system before the government gives hydraulic fracturing a green light. That was the message this morning from hydrologist Gilles Wendling. Wendling was the first of eight experts scheduled to make presentations before the select committee regarding the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing today and Saturday in the legislative assembly.

In the Yukon there are about 1,000 sites where surface water is monitored,  but only seven groundwater monitoring stations – and only one of those seven groundwater monitoring sites is in an area with shale gas potential, Wendling noted. “We are extremely ignorant about groundwater,” he said. “We don’t know where our aquifers are. Even the shallow aquifers, we don’t know where they are, we don’t know how big they are, we don’t know how deep they are. We don’t know the water table elevation, we don’t even know in which direction the groundwater moves, we don’t know, we haven’t collected the information.”

About a decade ago Wendling was involved with a study examining the source of the Liard Hot Springs. The researchers found that the springs are likely sourced from surface water that migrates to depths of 3.4 km where it reaches temperatures of 120 degrees C before moving back to the surface. Wendling called it “quite the discovery.”

Industry, he said, believes there’s a disconnect between groundwater at such depths and water at the surface, but his findings at the Liard Hot Springs suggest otherwise.

There are hots springs in the Yukon in areas with shale gas potential, he noted, both in the Whitehorse Trough and the Liard Basin.

The major concern with groundwater and hydraulic fracturing is the potential for shale gas wells to leak. There are weaknesses in wells and many potential locations for leaks from micro-fractures in cement, to fractures due to corrosion of the casing. If the well is poorly developed, leaks can happen after a year, but there’s potential in all wells to leak after decades as seals degrade, said Wendling.

Data collected in the Gulf of Mexico on the loss of well bore integrity found that over half the wells studied leaked over time, he noted.

Meanwhile in 2005, 469 wells were inspected in northeastern Alberta and 18.5 per cent of them were not in compliance with regulations. Regularly, about 15 per cent of wells do not meet regulated requirements, he said.

Are 100 per cent of wells sealed properly? And will that seal last forever? These are important questions that don’t yet have answers, Wendling said. What is known is that the high chance of leakage exists as does the potential to permanently change an area’s watershed. “The connection between the groundwater and the surface water is extremely complex,” he said. “If we start playing or messing with the water table here we have to be aware of the potential consequences of that.” Those potential consequences could include serious impacts to the groundwater sources that feed lakes and rivers, as well as contamination from gas or waste fluids. If pathways are created between various groundwater aquifers, from degraded wells, those aquifers can change.

Water will move from a high pressure zone, to a low pressure zone, Wendling explained. If an aquifer closer to the surface loses water to a deeper aquifer, there’s the potential that a surface lake or river could lose a significant water source. Conversely, water from a deeper aquifer, that could potentially be of a lower quality, could rise, polluting an aquifer that feeds a community’s drinking water supply or a surface water body. A debate based on long-term modelling is desperately needed to determine the full scope of the potential impacts on groundwater,  and it needs to happen before there are 10,000 or more hydraulic fracturing wells in the ground, Wendling argued.

At the very least, governments need to pressure industry proponents to provide the full build-out plan for an area before it’s fracked, that means how many wells in total they plan to drill before the end of the project’s lifespan. That’s information companies have, he contends, whether or not they admit it.

The public proceedings continue today with the presentations from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the Pembina Institute, and industry representatives from EFLO and Northern Cross. Tomorrow’s presentation begin again at 8:30 a.m. with presentations from Bernhard Mayer, a geoscientist, Rick Chalaturnyk, a geotechnical engineer, the Fort Nelson First Nation, and the National Energy Board. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2012: “The EPA can’t assess fracking in Leitrim” – Jessica Ernst Can the EPA assess the effects of fracking in Co Leitrim? Not according to scientist Jessica Ernst who visited the area targeted by Tamboran Resources last week and held presentations locally. … “It is not what you know you should be concerned about, it is what you don’t know she warned. [Emphasis added]

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