Major drilling project rests on water diversion application
By Laura Button
Repsol Oil and Gas Inc. has plans to drill 280 wells south of Rocky Mountain House over the next 18 years.
The project is still in its appraisal stage, which the company hopes to conclude by 2019 before starting full-scale development in 2021.
But first, it must secure an annual source of 1.8 million cubic metres of fresh water.
On March 20, Repsol submitted an application for a 10-year water diversion licence to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). It wants to draw water from the Clearwater River to store in purpose-built reservoirs. The stored water in turn will be used for hydraulic fracturing as Repsol drills new wells.
But some Arbutus and Dovercourt-area residents are opposing the water diversion application, and the project as a whole.
“We feel we are in the middle of an industrial development,” said Evanthia Bosworth. “We’re very concerned about our river, its health and its ecosystem. I don’t think the river can take all this extraction of water.”
Bosworth, Rose Zalasky and other area residents have formed a group called the Clearwater Coalition to voice their concerns to Repsol and the AER. On April 5, a small group of neighbours gathered for a question-and-answer session with Repsol at Arbutus Hall. Thirteen residents of Arbutus and Dovercourt and a handful of other interested people from outside the immediate area attended.
“We’re happy to be here and we’ll stay as long as we need to, as long as the conversation is productive and respectful,” said Kevin Koe, surface landman for Repsol.
More study needed, say opponents
Clearwater Coalition’s concerns are twofold: the river itself and its capacity to divert 1.8 million cubic metres per year, and the end use of the water: fracking.
“Repsol has been really forthcoming, but research is missing,” said Ken Webb, a Calgary-based artist who supports the coalition. “If you’re fracking and there are earthquakes in the area, what’s that doing to older wells? There are a number of questions, environmentally, and there are cautionary tales. It needs more study.”
In 2016, a 4.8-magnitude earthquake occurred near a Repsol fracking operation near Fox Creek, which Webb raised on April 5.
“It’s not about stopping this. It’s about erring on the side of caution,” he said.
“AER did not shut us down; we shut ourselves down,” Repsol community relations advisor, Sarah Barcelo told the hall. “We shut ourselves down and we reported it to the AER. We have taken this event and I can assure you we’ve put practices in place to ensure it never happens again.”
Industry has come a long way in the subsequent two years, said Barcelo, in using both less water and pressure to frac new wells.
Other residents were concerned about drinking well water quality and fish habitat, which Repsol promises to address with baseline testing and consultation with biologists.
But that wasn’t enough for area resident Ben Krabben, who owns land between the two proposed diversion points.
“I think [Alberta Environment and Parks] needs to take another look at this,” he said. “Until we get Alberta Environment involved, this is a waste of time.”
Repsol has applied to divert water from two sites – one on each side of the river. Water pulled from the river would be pumped through temporary hoses to purpose-built containment ponds. Repsol has completed a 120,000 cubic metre pond, and has plans for up to three more.
The application itself cites few stakeholder concerns, low population growth and absence of established indigenous settlements as points in favour.
“Our plan is to fill the ponds at high-water times of the year,” explained Jo-Anne Volk, water lead for Repsol, on April 5.
The reservoirs would then be used for fracking the 24 wells Repsol hopes to drill each year. Each new well requires approximately 75,000 cubic metres of water.
The application analyzes other potential water sources, but concludes municipal effluent or industrial wastewater are not economically feasible. However, the company says it will be able to cut back on fresh water use as drilling picks up.
“Repsol is committed to reducing the amount of high-quality, non-saline water required by using alternative sources, such as flowback and produced water, for well stimulation once in full field development … Repsol intends to start to incorporate deep non-saline groundwater, flowback and/or produced water in 2021.”
Volk explained the company can count on getting nine per cent of water back out of the well within the first two weeks, and another nine per cent over the first year. There is opportunity to recycle that water for another frac job – but only, said Volk, if there is another well close at hand.
Chris Hammonds owns Rocky River Rats, a tubing charter and shuttle company operating on the North Saskatchewan and the Clearwater Rivers.
“I didn’t invest a couple hundred thousand for you guys to come suck the water level down,” she said. “If I lose a couple of hundred dollars a day because my tubes are getting punctured and I have to send out a rescue for my clients, I’m going to be pissed. How quickly can the river drop?”
“I can understand that,” agreed Volk. She explained the water level at the diversion site would only drop by five milimetres if the diversion pumps were running at full capacity, drawing 0.3 cubic metres per second.
“We can work one-on-one with you and let you know when we are putting the [pumps] in,” Volk told Hammonds.
Yellowhead MP Jim Eglinski said curiosity drew him to attend the meeting.
“I wanted to get more information, even though the decision doesn’t fall under my jurisdiction,” he said.
Water is provincially-regulated, while Eglinski is a federal Member of Parliament.
“I live on the McLeod River, which is very similar to the Clearwater. I have a soft spot for these folks,” he told The Mountaineer.
On the other hand, he was pleased to hear Repsol is considering installing a permanent pipeline to support its full field development.
“Otherwise that would be a lot of trucking,” he said. “To me, a pipeline protects taxpayer infrastructure.”
The meeting concluded within two hours.
“We’re not going to make everyone happy but its good we got to share more information,” said Barcelo as neighbours dispersed.
“We are still committed to addressing any concerns.”