Integrated Water Resources is halfway through a two-year multi-stakeholder project to build a regional understanding of surface water, groundwater and deep saline water resources, as well as disposal zones, within west-central Alberta.

“Because the water needs of these unconventional projects have greater needs than do conventional drilling — because of the fracturing operations and also because people are quite rightly concerned about making sure their waters aren’t contaminated and the best decisions are made — it’s just kind of a proactive approach to address water concerns,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd. and a spokesman for the project.

Started in early 2012, the integrated study provides clear information on water resources available to industry and focuses on the unconventional fairways of the Duverney and Montney plays where there are already horizontal wells with hydraulic fracturing in operation and more such operations are expected.

[Companies] are going to need systematic access to a lot of water, and they’re also going to need access to disposal zones for their bits of produced water and whatever is left over from the recycling and so on,” Hayes said, adding the first year of the project, which just wrapped up, was all about regional scoping. Year two of the project involves the more detailed work of characterizing the various areas being mapped with quantitative modelling.

Hayes told the Bulletin the project takes advantage of ample information already available, bringing it all together under one accessible online format.

“It’s more like compiling available information and then interpreting it to say there is a bunch of quantitative modelling software, and so on, that we can run things through from the data that is collected to understand what we might be able to do.”

According to Hayes, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) asks industry to take an efficient, systematic and play-based approach to outlining water usage, addressing the concerns of all stakeholders in doing so.

“They don’t want companies coming in and applying for ‘this much water for this individual well.’ They want a comprehensive plan that encompasses not only their own plans for their lands in an unconventional resource play like the Duverney or the Montney, but they want companies to get together and work jointly to say ‘this is what the water management plan will look like for a particular area.'”

The goal of the Integrated Water Resources project, Hayes said, is to compile information to conveniently enable companies and stakeholders to see water sources available at any particular location within the west-central Alberta zone, which according to a 2012 Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) seminar presentation consists of 1,200 townships, a subsurface area of 91,000 square kilometres and a surface area of 142,000 square kilometres.

“From an industry person’s [perspective], I’d know what my choices are going to be. I’d know that it makes the most sense to make applications [for example] for use of a deep saline aquifer. Or in another area where the deep saline aquifer map shows there is nothing in that area that has the characteristics, flow rates and volumes to supply the water I need, I know in that case I need to perhaps make an application to use surface waters.”

Hayes said Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) and CAPP are sponsoring the project in partnership with eight oil and gas companies that offered money for the first year of the project. He added there are a couple of other companies signed up to support the project in its second year, and he strongly encourages other companies to come forward and sponsor the project.

“The more support we get and the more budget that’s in the project, [the] more detail we can undertake.”

While those companies currently supporting the project have ongoing access to the data compiled, Hayes said that a key to the project’s future will be its publically accessible nature.

“All of the mapping and work will be available through PTAC and CAPP in six months,” he said, adding that if a stakeholder is concerned about water wells on his or her property, accessible information from the project could tell the individual why an oil and gas company is pulling water from that shallow aquifer.

“A lot of that data is around, but the compilation, interpretation and systematic cleanup of it, and putting it all in one place and integrating it, those are the key issues.”

Integrated Water Resources is comprised of three consulting companies, including Petrel Robertson, Strategic West Energy Ltd. and Foundry Spatial Ltd. Hayes said the hope is that the current project — to be completed by the summer of 2014 — will eventually grow and include similar work in other regions.

“We feel it is very timely and we feel it is a good and real way industry can show they’re thinking ahead and being proactive with their approach to water.”

For more information on the project, visit www.integratedwaterresources.ca.

By Carter Haydu, The Daily Oil Bulletin