New Brunswick Shale Gas: Addressing Challenges, Realizing Opportunities 

April 27, 2011

By David Pryce,
Vice President Operations,
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

The Canadian oil and gas industry welcomes recent work by the New Brunswick government to enhance public understanding of safe, responsible natural gas development in the province.

Although natural gas development is in its early stages in New Brunswick, the government has started work on a plan to help guide the province’s future natural gas development, including economic, employment and energy supply returns to the people of New Brunswick, and robust regulatory oversight of industry activity.

Oil and gas operations are not new to New Brunswick. The province is home to the country’s largest oil refinery and Canada’s only liquefied natural gas import plant. What is new, however, is interest in the province’s natural gas potential.

It is understandable people in jurisdictions without established natural gas operations have questions about safety, environmental impact and other elements of the process. New Brunswick’s natural gas potential is in shale rock formations and requires a procedure known as hydraulic fracturing in concert with horizontal drilling to unlock the resource. One widely held misconception is that shale gas is different from natural gas. It is not. The term shale merely refers to where the natural gas is found.

Other jurisdictions in Canada, notably British Columbia, have extensive experience with this abundant domestic resource. Undeveloped shale gas resources have also been identified in Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia. A delegation from the New Brunswick government recently visited shale gas operations in B.C. to learn about best practices and the leadership role government regulators and industry play in responsible natural gas development.

Many of the questions around shale gas development focus on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. This technology has been used safely in western Canada for several decades. It has recently drawn public attention because of its instrumental role in North America’s rising reserves of natural gas.

It involves injecting pressurized water, mixed with sand and low concentrations of chemical additives, into the shale formation. The process creates or opens fractures and props them open with the sand so that natural gas in the shale can flow to the well and into surface facilities.

In New Brunswick, gas bearing shale formations are typically found between 2,000 and 3,000 metres below surface. That’s well below the level of fresh-water aquifers which generally occur between 100 and 200 metres below surface. The vertical distance a hydraulic fracture will travel is from 30 to 100 metres, which means fresh water sources are isolated from fracturing operations by significant distances and impermeable rock formations. As illustrated in other Canadian jurisdictions such as B.C., effective regulation and responsible industry practices ensure pipe and well integrity, and isolation of fresh water sources from contamination.

The concentration of additives used in hydraulic fracturing fluid is less than one per cent. Additives act as a lubricant and to ensure the sand in the mixture is evenly suspended. Regulators are aware of the chemical composition of the mixture and companies are working on ways to make it transparent to the public as well. All chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing conform to provincial and federal laws.

New Brunswick’s shale gas potential is not yet fully understood. But the potential is significant enough for the provincial government to refer to natural gas as a “key” fuel that provides an opportunity to transition from more emission intensive fuels, such as coal and heating oil.

Natural gas directly benefits the jurisdictions where it is produced. It generates royalty revenues and taxes for the government, which in turn are used to build schools, roads and hospitals, etc. For New Brunswick, natural gas development creates a more diversified economy and long-term jobs.

Natural gas is a cleaner burning source of energy. As Canada gradually begins to reduce coal-fired power generation, natural gas is a logical alternative because it burns 50 per cent cleaner than coal (Cambridge Energy Research Associates) and is readily available in many parts of our country. Its clean attributes make it an ideal source to provide base load energy to complement electricity generated by renewable sources, such as wind and solar. More than half of all Canadian homes are already heated by natural gas.

Natural gas is safe, abundant, has numerous uses and is affordable for consumers. As such, effectively regulated and responsibly developed Canadian natural gas is an important part of our current and future energy mix.

For more facts about Canadian natural gas I encourage readers to visit our Canadian natural gas website at http://www.canadiannaturalgas.ca/ .