Key Researcher(s):  Aarhus Geophysics Aps, B. J. R. Hayes, D. Allen, Geoscience BC, M. Best, SkyTEM Canada Inc

Project ID(s):  2014-PEA001, 2015-002, 2015-007, 2015-029, 2016-060, 2017-010

Key Research Organization(s):  Aarhus Geophysics Aps, Bemex Consulting International, Quaternary Geosciences Inc., Geoscience BC, Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd, Simon Fraser University, SkyTEM Canada Inc.

Project Location:  Northeast BC

Strategic Focus Area:  Water


The Geoscience BC's Peace Project acquired, interpreted, and shared new baseline scientific information about groundwater resources in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia.

The Need

This project provides critical baseline information about the Peace region’s geology for future groundwater research.

Groundwater has been poorly understood in the Peace region of northeastern BC and was identified as an area with significant knowledge gaps by the influential Council of Canadian Academies’ 2014 report Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. Northeastern BC is an area of significant unconventional natural gas development. ‘Unconventional’ gas extraction is the combination of vertical and horizontal drilling, together with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), required to access the natural gas, including shale gas, tight gas, coal bed methane, and methane hydrates from within the tight rock.

The Peace Project set out to locate and map shallow aquifers, specifically those within paleovalleys – the thick buried river (or glacial) deposits that usually contain coarse-grained sediments, such as gravels or coarse-grained sand. These rock units (aquifers) are excellent reservoirs for groundwater to flow through. Fine-grained sediments, such as muds and silts, tend to make poor aquifers.

Geoscience BC and partners completed the Peace Project between 2015 and 2018. The increased understanding of aquifers and shallow groundwater in the Peace region makes it possible for First Nations, energy companies, communities and government to make informed decisions about the use and protection of water resources.

Project Goals

The Peace Project:

  • Acquired and interpreted geophysical data to learn more about groundwater in the Peace region
  • Generated baseline information to guide the use and protection of groundwater in the region
  • Freely provided baseline information to First Nations, communities, government and industry to help make informed groundwater management decisions.

Project Benefits

The Peace Project was the first large-scale effort to map northeastern BC’s groundwater, using helicopters carrying geophysical equipment. The geophysical data and knowledge generated by the project has greatly increased the current understanding of shallow aquifers in the region. Regulators may use this independent baseline information to create policies to protect groundwater resources in the region.

Peace Project partners

The Peace Project was supported by several partners, including Progress Energy Canada Ltd., ConocoPhillips Canada, BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Northern Development Initiative Trust, BC Oil & Gas Research and Innovation Society, the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, the BC Oil & Gas Commission, and the Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources. It had additional support from the Peace River Regional District and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Survey Area

The Peace project covers 9,600 km2, an area roughly a quarter the size of Vancouver Island. The area included the northern part of the Montney play, an area of enormous natural gas potential. The National Energy Board (NEB) estimates that “the thick and geographically extensive siltstones of the Montney Formation are expected to contain 12,719 billion m³ (449 Tcf) of marketable natural gas, 2,308 million m³ (14,521 million barrels) of marketable natural gas liquids (NGLs), and 179 million m³ (1,125 million barrels) of marketable oil.”

Natural gas development involves drilling vertical wells to a depth of approximately 3 km, then drilling a horizontal leg of 1-3 km in length away from the vertical well bore. The horizontal leg is then hydraulically fractured to access the gas within the tight rock. As these techniques have advanced in the last 15 years, it has become possible to economically develop this extensive, unconventional siltstone resource. Energy companies, such as Progress Energy, Conoco-Phillips and Painted Pony, have been active in the Montney in recent years.

Given ongoing natural gas development, First Nations and local communities are interested in finding out more about the groundwater resources beneath their feet and ensuring that the resource is used responsibly.

How was the data collected?

The first step in understanding groundwater in the region was to build a thorough understanding of sediment types and where they occur. An initial airborne electromagnetic (EM) geophysical survey was used for the Peace Project because it is a non-invasive, cost-efficient way to study geology below the surface. It was the first regional-scale survey to map sediment types in the Peace.

For the survey, a helicopter flew 9,600 km2 (roughly 21,000 line km at 600 m spacing) of the Peace region between Hudson’s Hope, Charlie Lake and Pink Mountain during July and August 2015. A 16 m by 28 m ‘hoop’ suspended below the helicopter collected information about how well the sediments and water below the earth’s surface respond to small amounts of electricity: the power source was a car battery.

In addition to the EM survey, geological mapping and hydrogeological (rock and water) data from new and existing oil and gas boreholes and water wells was collected. In tandem with the new EM survey data, the mapping and borehole information was used to calibrate the findings of the geophysical survey and to produce new maps, two-dimensional (2D) cross-sections and three-dimensional (3D) block models mapping the distribution of sediments and aquifers below the surface in the Peace region. Some additional holes were also drilled to ‘groundtruth’ Peace Project findings.

Finally, all of the data and interpretations generated during the Peace Project was combined in a single report, published in May 2018.

What was found?

Key findings:

  • Surface geology in the Peace Region is complex, and the depth of a layer of sediments covering bedrock varies significantly;
  • sediments near the surface in the Peace region are not sufficiently interconnected over large areas with quantities of water suitable for uses such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or as water sources for large communities;
  • other water sources deeper in the bedrock may be suitable for such uses, but further research is required; and
  • the networks of aquifers near the surface may be suitable for other uses, such as domestic water wells.


  • Final Deliverables

    • Geoscience BC Report 2016-03: SkyTEM Survey: British Columbia, Canada; Data Report (PDF, 15 MB)

      Geoscience BC Report 2016-03 presents the results of an airborne geophysical survey flown over a part of northeastern BC’s Peace region. This study was conducted as a first step towards mapping the distribution of shallow groundwater systems in this area. SkyTEM Surveys ApS conducted the time domain electromagnetic and magnetic (“TEM”), heliborne survey during July and August 2015. The survey completed a total of of 20,999 line kilometres which were flown along 250 metre spaced lines. The survey area included the main Peace block, three additional blocks (NE Extension, Doig and Charlie Lake) and infill lines over the HRFN block.The SkyTEM data has been processed and inverted using a laterally constrained inversion (LCI) resulting in a quasi-2D model section that varies smoothly along the profile and yields a conductivity model that combines the very good shallow depth resolution offered by the low moment data and the larger depth of investigation from the high moment data.This report presents details of the survey operations, data collection and the results. The report delivers the survey data as a Geosoft GDB file (7GB – available on request); EM inversion results as a Geosoft GDB file, Geosoft geophysical grid (.grd), .tiff, .map and .pdf map files(magnetic and electromagnetic); and grid (.grd),.map and .pdf files of layers and sections from the inverted TEM conductivity model. The report does not include any geological interpretations of the geophysical dataset.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2016-09: Processing and Inversion of SkyTEM data

      In 2016, Aarhus Geophysics cleaned and processed the data from Report 2016-03, and made geological interpretations to identify paleovalleys. Aarhus created 2D sections and 3D models coloured according to how the sediments respond to the induced electrical current. Layers of wet clay, for example, conduct electricity well and may be shown as blue areas, whereas sandy or gravel layers may resist the electrical current and appear as red areas. The results are divided into ten files for download: two for each of the five main inversion blocks (Main, Charlie Lake, Doig, Conoco and Sikanni).From a geophysical standpoint, the main results of this study include: spatial variability of the resistivity models reflecting the expected variance, both near surface and at depth; excellent fit between measured and modelled data, independent of geology or flight lines; seamless models despite data were acquired under varying conditions and over a period of several weeks; depth of investigation exceeding, in places, 300 m; effective removal of potential canopy effects; good correlation with depth to bedrock inferred from boreholes.The derived qualitative geological interpretation highlights include: differentiation of different facies within the glacial cover, confirmation of several near surface resistive features associated to paleovalleys and/or areas of thick Quaternary cover identified by previous studies of borehole data, and the presence of other near surface resistive features that could be of hydrogeological relevance.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2016-18: Peace Area Project – Well Selection for Testing Geological Model based on Gamma and Airborne Electromagnetic (AEM) Studies (PDF, 1 MB)

      Geoscience BC Report 2016-18 presents the results of a study undertaken to test the validity of the geological models generated as a result of the Peace Project Aarhus and Petrel Robertson/QGI studies (Geoscience BC Reports 2016-09 and 2016-04, respectively). Several potential well locations were been selected within five blocks, based on surficial geology, resistivity, and road accessibility. The locations of the test wells were placed close to existing petroleum and water wells, where possible, to provide calibration.The objective was to test the validity of the geological model; not to locate shallow Quaternary and/or bedrock aquifers. The report provides a rationale as to why each area was selected. The locations of potential wells are overlain on resistivity depth slices and sections from the Peace project area, and a well prognosis provides the information on resistivity values and geological formations versus depth for each of the proposed locations.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2017-16: Northeast BC Sonic Log Drilling Project Physical Log Descriptions and Interpretations (PDF, 6 MB)

      Geoscience BC Report 2017-16 summarizes the results of a drilling program conducted in 2017. Levson and Best studied the materials found in the holes to test the accuracy of the geological models built from geophysical data collected by helicopter in 2015 (Geoscience BC Reports 2016-09 and 2016-18). Eleven holes were drilled at eight sites chosen from the geophysical survey. Groundwater monitoring wells were installed at two of the sites. Sands and gravels deposited during the last ice-age, approximately 25,000 years ago were encountered in each of the holes. Levson and Best recorded the materials intercepted in the holes before the drillers inserted PVC pipe into the boreholes to allow for further testing.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2017-17: Summary Report on Proposed Water Well Locations for Halfway River First Nation Area (PDF, 3 MB)

      Geoscience BC Report 2017-17 presents the results of an analysis of available geological and geophysical information in the vicinity of the Halfway River First Nation (HRFN) community. Best and Levson identified potential water well drill sites in the area that might help provide additional groundwater sources for the community. Targets close to the community are the most economically feasible, so the initial investigation focussed on the community area and then expanded outwards. Seven potential targets close to the community were identified.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2017-18: Petrophysical Interpretation on Six Shallow Wells in the Peace Region of BC (PDF, 1 MB)

      Geoscience BC Report 2017-18 details the geotechnical rationale for choosing eight test sites which would be used to test the validity of the geological models generated as a result of the Peace Project Aarhus and Petrel Robertson/QGI studies (Geoscience BC Reports 2016-09 and 2016-04, respectively). Well locations, at those eight test sites, were selected based on the geology, resistivity information from the EM survey, road accessibility, and proximity to existing oil and gas and water wells for calibration. This report provides a rationale as to why each well location was selected.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2018-08: Comparison of Resistivity Gamma and Geological Logs with Airborne EM Inversions (PDF, 3 MB)

      In 2017, Best and Levson compared the airborne EM inversions (Geoscience BC Report 2016-09) with the new borehole geological logs and the resistivity and gamma logs collected in earlier 2017. In (Geoscience BC Report 2018-08), Best and Levson overlay the drill hole information with the relevant 2D slices through the geophysics to see how well the predictions from the geophysical models match the sediments encountered. These correlations can be used to improve the detail and accuracy of the geological models in areas where wells and drill logs are unavailable.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2018-06: Processing and inversion of SkyTEM data leading to a hydrogeological interpretation of the Peace River Northwestern Area (PDF, 7 MB)

      In 2017, Aarhus and GEUS processed a portion of the EM dataset in the north-west corner of the Peace project area, incorporating well log information from previous studies. The main purpose of the work (Geoscience BC Report 2018-06) was to create a reliable 3D model of the area and use it to identify structures and sediment units that could potentially host groundwater resources. The Aarhus models identified over 30 layers within the top 300 metres and two generations of paleovalleys, narrowing down the location of these potentially important groundwater host units.
      View report summary

    • Geoscience BC Report 2018-13: Geoscience BC Peace Project: Final Report (PDF, 4 MB)

      The final report summarizes the surveys conducted as part of Phase One of the Peace Project, presents some of the produced data, and highlights several studies that applied the data to interpret the geology and hydrogeology of the region. A Discussion section provides an overview of the challenges associated with interpreting data acquired at different scales and synthesizes information on the current understanding of the geology, hydrogeology, distribution of aquifers, and understanding of the buried valleys in the region, which have all been enhanced by work conducted for the Peace Project.
      View report summary

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