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Peace Region Scientific Groundwater Monitoring Network Installation Study

Lead Researcher(s):  A. G. Cahill, D. Kirste, L. Welch, R.D. Beckie

Key Researcher(s):  M. Goetz, A. J. Allen

Project ID:  2017-002

Key Research Organization(s):  University of British Columbia

Project Location:  Northeast BC

Strategic Focus Area:  Water

Summary



The University of British Columbia’s Energy and Environment Research Initiative (EERI), Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, and Geoscience BC teamed up to conduct research addressing some aspects of public concern around oil and gas activities and groundwater methane in the Peace Region in British Columbia’s Northeast Region.

A key finding is that there is no correlation between the amount of dissolved methane in the groundwater and proximity to oil and gas wells.

View EERI project page

The Need

Despite years of energy development in the Peace Region, no assessments of baseline groundwater quality had been conducted prior to this study. This project built upon significant groundwater chemistry data collected at domestic water wells under a program led by British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in collaboration with Simon Fraser University. It added groundwater chemistry data close to natural gas wells in the Peace Region and at locations suitable to establish natural background groundwater methane levels.

Project Goals

This Water project fits under Geoscience BC’s Strategic Objective of Understanding Water and our goal to:

  • Expand the collection of baseline groundwater data and research on groundwater in the Peace Region to guide informed management of natural gas resources.

Specifically, this project aimed to:

  • Install and sample from a network of 29 groundwater monitoring wells in the Peace Region.
  • Characterize groundwater quality in the Peace Region, with a focus on the distribution, concentration and origin of dissolved hydrocarbons, principally methane.
  • Address knowledge gaps about potential environmental impacts and the environmental fate of migrated natural gas in geology typical of northeast BC.

Project Benefits

Benefits of this project include:

  • Providing an assessment of groundwater methane conditions in the Peace Region.
  • Data collection to help inform regulatory policy and technical guidance related to groundwater protection and methane migration.
  • Data collection to inform future groundwater monitoring strategies.
  • Infrastructure to support the long-term monitoring of groundwater trends and cumulative effects.
  • Enhancements to the collective contributions of government and science initiatives under the Northeast Water Strategy.
  • Peer reviewed and publicly available data, results and reports.

Survey Area

The project focused on the Peace Region in BC’s Northeast Region. All research took place within the territories of Treaty 8 First Nations.

Partners

This project was a core component of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Energy and Environment Research Initiative (EERI), a field-focused research program directed by Dr. Roger Beckie and Dr. Aaron Cahill (now at Heriot Watt University) at the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Additional funding was provided by the BC Oil and Gas Commission, Mitacs and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. The project team included scientists from University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University.

How will the data be collected?

The research team, led by EERI, installed a network of 29 scientifically designed groundwater monitoring wells at strategic locations throughout the Peace Region. This included wells close to the communities of Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. Monitoring wells were located both close to and distant from existing oil and gas wells.

Samples were taken from the wells over a program of four sampling campaigns to understand the chemistry and dissolved gas content of groundwater. Domestic water wells in the area were also sampled.

What was found?

Key findings from the project reports include:

  • Naturally occurring methane is ubiquitous in Peace Region groundwater, mostly at very low concentrations.
  • Stable Isotope analyses showed that concentrations of hydrocarbon gases in all but one well are biogenic in origin.
  • The domestic supply well for the town of Hudson’s Hope showed high levels of naturally occurring methane, determined to be sourced from deeper natural coal bed methane.
  • Water quality results from samples from domestic water wells were statistically equivalent to those from samples collected from newly installed monitoring wells.
  • There is no correlation between the amount of dissolved methane in the groundwater and proximity to oil and gas wells.
  • One well showed signs of potential gas leakage from a nearby oil and gas well (EERI 16).
  • Discrete events of gas leakage can occur, but it is not a pervasive issue in the study area.
  • Stations from this project were also used to develop a hydrogeological conceptual model in Groundwater Recharge in a Confined Paleovalley Setting, Northeast British Columbia, Canada (see Technical Articles section below).

Deliverables