CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta’s energy regulator expects to hammer out rules by the end of this year requiring oil companies to publicly disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing, following other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions that have already done so.
Alberta, Canada’s largest energy-producing province, has lagged neighboring British Columbia and some U.S. states in making public disclosure mandatory. That’s largely because there has been far less straight dry-gas fracking, due to both geology and weak gas prices, said Cal Hill, executive manager of regulatory development at the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board.
Instead, companies have so far concentrated on oil or liquids-rich gas, much of it from old reservoirs. That requires less fluid than in prolific shale-gas plays such as British Columbia’s Horn River or Pennsylvania’s Marcellus.
“It’s those high volumes that have been used for shale-gas fracks in the U.S. that have stimulated discussion around disclosing what those fluids are,” he said at a media briefing.
”Typically the volumes for most of our traditional wells that are fracked are much lower volumes overall, and to this point it simply hasn’t been an issue.
“Our focus has been on ensuring, regardless of what the fluid is, that the fluid does not have an opportunity to come in contact with surface or groundwater.”
Still, disclosure rules are expected before the end of 2012, he said.
Since 2008, oil companies have completed 3,300 horizontal wells and multistage fracks in Alberta. The practice involves pumping sand and chemicals deep into the horizontal section of a well, where it cracks the shale rock, allowing the hydrocarbons to flow into the wellbore.
The process has been the target of growing criticism from environmentalists and many politician, especially in the United States, who have raised concerns about the impact of the chemicals on water supplies.
The ERCB is investigating four incidents of so-called inter-wellbore communication that have occurred since 2009, in which wells were drilled too close to others, affecting pressure and other operations, Hill said.
Such an incident can lead to surface water contamination as fluids get pushed up one of the wells. Poorly cemented wells can also lead to contamination.
In recent months, Canadian oil and gas producers have developed their own guidelines in an attempt to head off controversy over the drilling and completion technique.
They include such measures as safeguarding surface and groundwater, disclosing volumes of water used, developing fracking fluids that have the least environmental risk as well as detailing additives used in the fluids.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson