Peace Project

Project type: Energy

Proponents: Various

Project location: Peace Region, NE BC

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.

CLICK HERE FOR FINAL REPORT (Geoscience BC Report 2018-13)

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.

Peace Project Partners

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 m (449 Tcf) of marketable natural gas, 2,308 million m (14,521 million barrels) of marketable natural gas liquids (NGLs), and 179 million m (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.

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.

Geoscience BC Report 2018-13
Geoscience BC Peace Project: FINAL REPORT
By Samantha E. Morgan and Diana M. Allen Simon Fraser University

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.

Geoscience BC Report 2018-08
Peace area project -- Comparison of resistivity gamma and geological logs with airborne EM inversions
by M. Best M., Bemex Consulting International, and V. Levson, Quaternary Geosciences Inc

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.

Geoscience BC Report 2018-06
Processing and inversion of SkyTEM data leading to a hydrogeological interpretation of the Peace River North Western Area
by Aarhus Geophysics and GEUS (the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland)

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.

Geoscience BC Report 2017-18
Petrophysical Interpretation on Six Shallow Wells in the Peace Region of BC
by Yevgen Mykula

In this project, Mykula examined the geophysical logs from the six shallow wells drilled by Best and Levson (Geoscience BC Report 2017-16). The six wells were analyzed to characterize sediment types and determine properties needed for the modeling of regional aquifers.

Geoscience BC Report 2017-17
Summary report of proposed water well locations for Halfway River First Nation area
by M. Best M., Bemex Consulting International, and V. Levson, Quaternary Geosciences

This report 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.

Geoscience BC Report 2017-16
Northeast BC sonic drilling project: Physical log descriptions and interpretations
by M. Best M., Bemex Consulting International, and V. Levson, Quaternary Geosciences

This report 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.

Geoscience BC Report 2016-18
Peace Area Project - Well Selection for Testing Geological Model based on Gamma and Airborne Electromagnetic (AEM) Studies
by Bemex Consulting International and Quaternary Geosciences Inc.

This report 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.

Geoscience BC Report 2016-04
Interpretation of Quaternary Sediments and Depth to Bedrock Through Data Compilation and Correction of Gamma Logs
by Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd.

To learn more about materials below the surface in the Peace project area and how they relate to groundwater, researchers used a combination of geological maps, hydrogeological reports, and downhole geophysical surveys to 'ground-truth' the results of the geophysical survey. Gamma logs were used to map the thickness of Quaternary cover over bedrock and the distribution of aquifer sands in this cover. Gamma logging a borehole involves lowering specialized instruments down the hole to measure geophysical properties. Gamma logging measures the low levels of radiation emitted by minerals containing potassium, thorium, and uranium as they break down, providing detailed information about the sediment-types (e.g. gravel, sand, mud).

Geoscience BC Report 2016-09
Processing and Inversion of SkyTEM data
by Aarhus Geophysics APS

In 2016, Aarhus Geophysics cleaned and processed the data from 2016-03, and made geological interpretations to identify paleovalleys (Geoscience BC Report 2016-09). 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.

Geoscience BC Report 2016-03
SkyTEM Survey: British Columbia, Canada; Data Report
by SkyTEM Surveys ApS

This report contains the initial release of the EM and magnetic survey data from the helicopter survey in 2015. It includes raw data (e.g. 1D inversion data in Oasis format and PDF maps, Digital Elevation Models, magnetic data) and data collection parameters (e.g. flight line data). It does not include any geological interpretations of the geophysical dataset.

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