The British Columbia Oil & Gas Commission (OGC) is the regulatory agency responsible for the regulation of oil and gas activities within the Province of British Columbia (B.C.). With the increased development of unconventional plays (oil and natural gas resources that were previously impossible to obtain, but that can now be extracted using new technologies) we are finding increasingly large volumes of non-fresh water fluids in the water life cycle as they relate to hydraulic fracturing operations.
In response to this growth, on May 8, 2015 the OGC released the Management of Saline Fluids for Hydraulic Fracturing Guideline (the Guideline) outlining the requirements and expectations for infrastructure required for the management of saline fluids generated from and/or used in hydraulic fracturing operations. The OGC supports the re-use of industrial or municipal wastewaters in an effort to offset the demand for fresh water sources in industrial settings.
This new Guideline is effective immediately and supersedes the requirements of Information 09-07 Storage of Fluid Returns from Hydraulic Fracturing Operations.
The Guideline is defined as “a reference document for oil and gas permit holders detailing the requirements and expectations for siting, design, construction, operation, and decommissioning of lined containment systems used for the storage of saline fluids.” Permit holders are to apply the Guideline to engineered above-ground containment ponds and walled storage systems (AWSS)(a.k.a. ‘C-Rings’) associated with hydraulic fracturing operations in B.C. Closed (fixed or floating roof) atmospheric containment tanks, such as those designed and manufactured under API 650, are not within the scope of the Guideline.
The Guideline considers saline fluids to be “any fluids used in or returned to surface in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing operations.” The term ‘saline fluid’ includes:
- Flowback from hydraulic fracturing operations;
- Produced water;
- Saline source water.
The scope of the Guideline is limited to the legal requirements for the storage and disposal of saline fluids as described in the:
- Oil and Gas Activities Act (OGGA), Section 35, Section 37;
- Environmental Management Act (EMA), Section 6;
- Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR), Part 5, Section 15(1), Section 11(3), Protocol 4, Protocol 9;
- Oil and Gas Waste Regulation (OGWR), Section 5(2), Section 7(1);
- Hazardous Wastes Regulation (HWR);
- Spill Reporting Regulation (SRR);
- Drilling and Production Regulation (DPR), section 50(1), and
- Environmental Protection and Management Regulation (EPMR), sections 10, 12.
Additionally the Guideline makes reference to the Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act with regards to protection of waterfowl and other local wildlife.
Broadly, the Guideline introduces siting requirements that apply to all storage facilities. Siting is the justification used for the selection of a specific site for the construction of a storage facility. According to Section 1.5 of the Guideline; storage facilities should not be constructed within 200 meters of a water supply well or groundwater capture zone(1) (not including water source wells permitted by the OGC), or on top of an aquifer or recharge area(1).
Where water chemistry confirms the presence of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORMs), management plans are compulsory. Permit holders are expected to comply with the requirements of the EMA under all circumstances.
Siting, design and construction of storage facilities must be certified by a professional engineer in good standing with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEG-BC).
4 Containment Ponds
The Guideline also introduces siting, design and construction requirements specific to containment ponds. It is key to note that the expectations outlined in Section 3.1 Siting of Containment Ponds and Section 3.2 Containment Pond Design and Construction are not considered retroactively applicable to existing infrastructure. Facilities that do not meet the requirements of the Guideline may be subject to enforcement action under OGAA(2).
When siting containment ponds, permit holders are expected to consider impacts to environmental risk, soil quality, groundwater, surface water, human, animal and plant health as they apply to the full life cycle of the facility.
Specific siting requirements introduced include proximity to floodplains and high-water mark of streams or natural water bodies, depth to bedrock, and verification of hydraulic conductivity. The OGC expects that a geotechnical investigation and a globe stability analysis be completed in order to confirm site suitability. Additionally, each facility is expected to develop a site-specific response plan, taking into account the information gathered during the suitability exercise.
Construction of earthworks must be completed under non-frozen conditions and overseen by a professional engineer who can certify compliance with the approved design parameters.
Key design, construction and operational requirements include:
- Both the primary and secondary synthetic liners must be a minimum of 60 mil (1.5 mm) thick and have a hydraulic conductivity of 10-7 cm/s or less;
- The two liners must be separated by an engineered seepage system;
- Leak detection system with low point water sampling locations;
- Sub-drains with low point water sampling locations;
- Calculation of the action leakage rate for the containment pond;
- Development and execution of a groundwater monitoring program, includes required establishment of baseline data prior to facility commencing operations;
- Weekly analysis of pH and chlorides from the leak detection and sub-drain systems;
- Quarterly analysis of pH, electrical conductivity, TDS, major ions, and CSR metals from the leak detection, sub-drain and groundwater monitoring systems;
- Annual reporting of analysis from the leak detection, sub-drain and groundwater monitoring systems to the OGC;
- Immediate reporting of leakage from the containment pond in excess of the action leakage rate for 3 consecutive days or more.
Decommissioning of a containment pond will require the completion of an environmental assessment by a qualified professional. The environmental assessment report must be submitted to the OGC. Where contamination remains, a remedial action plan will be necessary.
5 What does This Mean?
All permit holders are responsible for ensuring they understand and meet all requirements of the OGAA, EMA and their permits. Should a company not comply with the OGAA, the OGC may take compliance and enforcement actions against the offender. Aside from the financial cost and potential environmental implications, this can have significant impacts on a permit holder’s social license to operate in a region.
Proper management of saline fluid for hydraulic fracturing must be considered at all stages of a project’s development. Saline fluids must be contained in a manner in which they will not contact or contaminate soil or groundwater. Containment facilities must be designed by professional engineers and detailed leak detection and monitoring must demonstrate ongoing protection of the environment.
The Guideline is intended as guidance for permit holders to demonstrate ongoing compliance with these acts and their supporting regulations with respect to the storage of saline fluids. While the Regulation provides a level of certainty to industry, it is not all encompassing and may not account for all site-specific situations. Permit holders must work closely with OGC to ensure continued compliance throughout the entire life cycle of their operation.
The team at Integrated Sustainability Consultants have firmly established connections at the OGC. Our front end planning, engineering and project delivery history, monitoring, environmental management and regulatory capabilities are highly suited to guiding permit holders through the changing regulatory landscape in the oil and gas industry.
(1) As identified in the Integrated Land and Resource Registry (ILRR)
(2) Additional information is available in the OGC’s Compliance and Enforcement Manual
If you have and questions or require further details, please contact the undersigned at any time.
Integrated Sustainability Consultants Ltd.
Manager, Legal & Regulatory Specialist