New Pembina Report Calls for Better Groundwater Protection During Coalbed Methane and Other Natural Gas Production

Pembina Institute

April 30, 2007

The Pembina Institute's latest report, Protecting Water, Producing Gas is a detailed examination of the potential impact of drilling for coalbed methane and other forms of unconventional gas on precious fresh groundwater. The report, released today, calls on the government to protect groundwater to greater depths than at present.

"Fresh groundwater is the lifeblood of rural Alberta," says Mary Griffiths, a senior policy analyst with the Institute and author of the report. "The government introduced some new measures to protect shallow water last year, mostly associated with the development of coalbed methane, but more needs to be done. In particular, monitoring of groundwater needs improvement and it needs to be protected to a greater depth."

"We're very concerned that the number of monitoring wells in the province¹s groundwater observation network have actually declined by half even though the number of producing gas wells has more than doubled in the last ten years," says Griffiths.

As natural gas sources become depleted companies are shifting to gas reserves that are smaller and nearer to the surface. This presents increased risk to shallow aquifers that Albertans depend on for their drinking water and water for crops and livestock. Many rural Albertans are concerned about the lack of adequate protection of water resources, especially as climate change is expected to reduce natural flows in rivers and groundwater recharge.

With potentially heavy demands for water in the future, it may be necessary to desalinize deeper water for use in times of drought. "We must ensure this potentially useful water is protected from toxic substances such as fracturing fluids or disposed oilfield wastes," Griffiths says.

Alberta regulations protect groundwater above the "base of groundwater protection", which is water containing less than 4,000 milligrams per litre total dissolved solids. In the U.S. and other parts of the world, deeper groundwater containing between 4,000 and 10,000 milligrams per litre total dissolved solids is recognized as an important resource, as it can be economically treated for domestic and other uses; this water is not protected from contamination in Alberta.

Three other key recommendations to government include:

  • Increased requirements for industry to conduct water well testing prior to drilling of shallow gas wells.
  • Better systems for handling water well complaints.
  • Long-term funding to enable sustainable, integrated management of the province¹s groundwater.


For more information:
Mary Griffiths, Senior Policy Analyst
Tel: 780-433-6675

The Institute¹s new report documents the basis for fears and concerns landowners have expressed about potential impacts of natural gas production on water wells from a range of activities including seismic exploration, well drilling, shallow formation fracturing and removal of shallow groundwater. This publication, made possible with grants from Alberta Ecotrust and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, examines the current state of information on groundwater and how government, industry and landowners can reduce the risks to this essential resource.

The full report a fact sheet and frequently asked questions are available on the Pembina Institute website at