Air Water Land: September 2009
Trumpeting responsible development
Producers’ group addressing concerns in Horn River Basin
Producers operating in the super-hot Horn River Basin in northeastern British Columbia are taking specific actions to ensure that environmental stewardship and stakeholder concerns are not being ignored.
In a speech to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen this summer, Rob Spitzer, vice-president of exploration for Apache Canada Ltd. and chairman of the Horn River Basin Producers Group, emphasized the importance of responsible development.
“At the end of the day, success in this kind of project fundamentally means that each of the stakeholders and First Nations, when this thing plays out, feel like they’ve been given a fair deal and it’s worked for everyone,” he said.
The Horn River Basin Producers Group is comprised of 11 companies, including Apache Canada. It meets regularly to discuss aspects of responsible development such as minimizing cumulative environmental impact through methods such as multi-well pad drilling and common infrastructure. A key priority for the companies is to work with First Nations, government, and communities to understand and address issues.
There’s a lot at stake for the companies as it the Horn River Basin’s potential becomes clearer.
Recently released drilling results show Apache’s individual horizontal wells in the Horn River Basin alone could recover 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Apache holds about 210,000 net acres in Horn River.
One of the keys to reducing the environmental footprint, Spitzer said, is pad drilling, adding that it’s also crucial to lay out a development plan, which is difficult to articulate at this point because the play is still in its infancy.
“At the end of the day, if we can drill 8, 10, 15 wellbores from a single pad, you don’t have [as much] surface disturbance,” he said.
Also on the environmental front, the producers’ group and Geoscience BC earlier this year launched a number of collaborative geoscience projects to identify and map subsurface aquifers in the basin.
An aquifer study will establish the suitability of selective water reservoirs to provide for future exploration and development opportunities of shale gas within the basin. Phase 1 projects will be supported with approximately $3.5 million in funding from Geoscience BC and more than $6 million of in-kind contributions from the producers’ group.
The goal of the project is to lower the surface footprint of development in the basin by reducing the use of surface water, minimizing the impact on potable water, and facilitating orderly development through collaborative research and knowledge sharing among geoscience researchers and members of the producers’ group. Energy ministry geoscience staff will also contribute to aspects of the research work.
“This process of fracing in shale uses a lot of water,” Spitzer said. “One of the things that we’re working in partnership with Geoscience BC on is to look at non-potable water sources and there are some in the basin. “Hopefully what will come out of that is a creative solution.”
The producers’ group also has helped create a report card that is nearing completion, which Spitzer said would show how many people/contractors are hired in the local area and those that are employed from outside the region.
Areas like the Horn River Basin have become extremely important because of the continued shift away from conventional to unconventional production for both oil and gas in Canada with growth larger than previously predicted, particularly from shale gas.
Depending on prices, Canada’s natural gas production could be as low as 10 billion cubic feet per day by 2020 (in the low price scenario) or as high as 21 billion cubic feet a day (in the high price scenario), the National Energy Board (NEB) points out.
Canada’s remaining marketable natural gas resource base is estimated at 439 trillion cubic feet. Tight gas is almost one-third of the remaining resource base and is expected to be the source of almost 40 per cent of projected Canadian natural gas production through 2020.
Western Canada contains significant unconventional natural gas resources, including shale gas. These unconventional natural gas resources comprise 65 trillion cubic feet or 15 per cent of estimated remaining natural gas resources.
Conventional gas production accounted for almost two-thirds of total production in 2007 and its contribution slips to just one-third of total Canadian production by 2020, according to an NEB forecast.