Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 31, 2014

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 on January 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

HEARINGS BEGIN – 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.

CommentsAdd a comment

bobby bitman

Feb 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Reading this article it is hard to see how fracking could ever be considered safe in the Yukon.  18.5% of the wells in Alberta are out of compliance. Over half of the wells in the Gulf of Mexico are leaking.  We do not even know where our Yukon aquifiers are, let alone how deep they are and what direction they flow in.  Yet we are considering approving fracking in the territory?  Have we learned nothing from the 400 year, $700 million dollar clean up at the Faro mine?  They all say it’s going to be safe, no mess, no risk, we’ll clean up after ourselves.  They take the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of resource wealth out of the territory, fight against any responsibility, declare bankruptcy and disappear.

B. Foster

Feb 6, 2014 at 10:22 am

This article has many valid points and should do much to make the real issues clear when it comes to what we stand to lose compared to what we stand to gain when it comes to oil and gas coming to the Yukon.

Sadly, when you consider that all these talks are merely window dressing in the name of “public consultation”, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the territory is poised to lose her status as one of the last unspoiled examples of wildness left on the planet. This will happen at the hands of those who seek to profit….period. Don’t think it will be about the common good, or paying our way. It will be about money / status for the few in a position to exploit.

What is about to happen here has been happening elsewhere for a long time. It’s about resources and the new kid on the block (humanity) not being able to live in a sustainable manner. He is quite clever, clearly unwise and supremely selfish.

The few who desire a sustainable future have been rendered essentially powerless in the face of money. To speak against money and the current status quo of unlimited economic growth with limited resources is to label oneself a luddite.

Meanwhile the majority breaking their backs while staunchly defending their right to do so, continue to do so….for a pittance that gets frittered away trying to make ends meet and make payments on crap they don’t really need. Shiny stuff that makes us feel good for a short time. Shiny stuff acquired in exchange for stuff that cannot be replaced for any price, the global commons. Resources that belong to “all” stolen by a few.

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