British Columbia Natural Gas Atlas (BC-NGA)

Key Researcher(s):  M. J. Whiticar

Project ID:  2015-013

Key Research Organization(s):  University of Victoria

Project Location:  Northeast BC

Focus Area:  Energy-Oil and Gas


The BC Natural Gas Atlas (BC-NGA) project will compile a first-of-its-kind, open-access geochemical database containing analysis of samples of the major natural gas ‘varieties’ found across northeast British Columbia. The database will contain gas chemistry and isotope data, as well as geochemical ratios and calculated parameters for use as gas ‘fingerprints’, which can be used to help identify the origin of unknown natural gas leaks from completed wells and other sources along with  aiding prediction of valuable natural gas liquids in the subsurface.

The Need

One-third of Canada’s natural gas comes from operations in northeast BC. It is possible that issues with well surface casing cements may be allowing fugitive gases to escape into the atmosphere. There are also additional concerns that fugitive gases could be leaking from older, abandoned well bores.

A database of natural gas types and their sources can be used to compare traces of natural gas in groundwater to determine where the gas is coming from and whether it is from natural sources or due to energy development activity. The ability to detect and identify the source of fugitive gas emissions is critical to the responsible development and monitoring of energy resources in BC.

Understanding hydrocarbon-types is extremely important for the successful economic development of oil & gas resources. Through the use of carbon isotopes exploration companies can predict which hydrocarbon-type is most likely to be present (e.g. oil versus gas) and can be used to optimize production.

Project Goals

The project has two major goals:

  • To aid the understanding and prediction of hydrocarbon-type occurrences, maturation histories and production prediction of natural gas in BC;
  • To create a carbon isotope/geochemical baseline which can be used to discern potential fugitive gas signatures in groundwater and/or the atmosphere.

Project Benefits

The ability to identify a leaking gas source has many benefits. In the case of a leaking wellbore, an operator can lower remediation costs by having a high level of certainty as to the gas source and associated depth, thereby allowing the operator to quickly and efficiently plan remediation of leaking wellbores, whether new wellbores or old abandoned wellbores.

The ability to document thermogenic sources of natural gas will be a critical first step in the development of an air monitoring network. It will aid in assessing whether detected results from the monitoring network are natural in origin or from oil and gas development.

Isotopically-typed gases may also allow operators to optimize the gas revenue stream by understanding where certain gas-types might be found. Systematic cataloging of BC natural gases may also reveal information about the development, migration, segregation and compartmentalization within petroleum systems and the distribution of natural gas liquids which help gas producers to target higher value natural gas streams.

Additional information may be gained on the effectiveness of regional seals and the impact of structuring on seal integrity, information which is critical to ensure shallow aquifers are not being compromised during hydraulic fracturing operations.

Survey Area

The BC-NGA project is collecting samples and data on the molecular composition and stable isotope ratio geochemistry of natural gas samples obtained from wells across northeast BC in the Peace River Regional District and Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.