Assessment of Fugitive Natural Gas on Near-Surface Groundwater Quality

Lead Researcher(s):  A. G. Cahill

Project ID:  2016-043

Key Research Organization(s):  University of British Columbia

Project Location:  Northeast BC

Strategic Focus Area:  Water


This multi-year, multi-disciplinary study aims to build the understanding of how unintentional gas leaks from natural gas development ('fugitive emissions') can move into shallow aquifers and what happens when this occurs. The findings will guide policy and industry practice as well as informing affected communities.

The Need

In 2014 the Council of Canadian Academies, a highly-respected scientific panel, released a report outlining knowledge gaps associated with unconventional gas development. It found that little is known about the effects of natural gas leaks into fresh water aquifers.

This understanding is critical for communities, governments and the resource sectors to make decisions, improve practices and set policy and regulation.

Project Goals

The Assessment of fugitive natural gas on near-surface groundwater quality project is designed to answer the following questions:

  • What are the principal hydrogeological controls on the physical movement of fugitive gas in near-surface freshwater aquifers in northeastern British Columbia?
  • What are the physical and geochemical conditions that affect fugitive gas typical of undisturbed near-surface fresh groundwater aquifers in the Montney shale-gas play?
  • What geochemical changes occur when natural gas migrates into shallow fresh-water aquifers in northeastern British Columbia?

Project Benefits

This project provides research needed to support responsible development of BC’s shale gas resources. It will help to better determine and mitigate the risks associated with this development, to improve monitoring and will guide future remediation work.

Communities, regulators and the resource sector can use the findings to ensure development is done in a way that protects the environment and supports the BC economy.

Survey Area

The project is taking place around Hudson’s Hope in northeastern British Columbia. Two sites, one within the aquifer, the other above the aquifer, will be used.

How will the data be collected?

The project is simulating a leaking gas well by releasing gases into a controlled environment and studying how gases travel through different sediment types, and what impact this has. Initial test releases use an inert gas such as nitrogen and a ‘tracer’ to test sampling methods before methane is released into the ground.

Water and gas sampling is followed by ongoing monitoring techniques, including: geophysics, hydrogeology, geochemistry, microbiology, and micrometeorology. The project involves and is supported by government agencies to ensure that there will be no impacts to drinking water.


This project is a core component of the UBC Energy and Environment Research Initiative (EERI), a field focused research program directed by Dr. Roger Beckie and Dr. Aaron Cahill at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.Additional funding is provided by Natural Resources Canada and the BC Oil and Gas Commission. http://eeri.ubc.ca. The project team includes scientists from University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University.