The LNG Canada announcement was a long time coming. In his announcement speech, Premier John Horgan referred to British Columbia’s first export facility proposal — Dome Petroleum’s 1982 Western LNG Project. Last week’s news secures new markets for natural gas from northern B.C. From the wellhead to tidewater the implications of economic, social and environmental decisions made today will be felt for many generations to come.
There has been natural gas development in northeastern B.C. for many decades, and it is usually accessed by hydraulic fracturing. Increased use and awareness have brought questions about potential impacts on water, increased seismic activity and increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, Geoscience BC has been producing high quality, independent and public scientific research to help answer some of these questions. This research complements the work of government scientists, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and academics and is used by the resource sectors, communities, Indigenous groups and government.
To date, Geoscience B.C. has 65 energy and water-related research projects completed or underway. A significant proportion of this research is about understanding water resources and natural gas development’s impacts on them. The data and reports from Geoscience B.C.’s research are all publicly available to improve knowledge, inform responsible decisions, catalyze investment and socio-economic opportunities and to stimulate innovation and earth science technologies.
For example, Geoscience B.C. data about deep groundwater in northeastern B.C. helped in triggering $150 million of investments in water treatment plants by companies involved in hydraulic fracturing. It also spurred the development of innovative new technologies, and significantly reduced reliance on surface water for hydraulic fracturing.
Geoscience B.C.’s Peace Project was the first regional groundwater study of the northern Peace region, where much of the province’s natural gas development is taking place. Final reports were released earlier this year, and communities have shown interest in using the data to plan for their own long-term water needs.
In 2012, the commission released a seminal report linking hydraulic fracturing to low-level seismicity. Since then, the national seismic detection network has grown from two to 13 stations — in part due to Geoscience B.C.’s ongoing participation in a consortium including government and the energy sector that is investigating, monitoring and mitigating induced seismicity. The enhanced network is being used to monitor and mitigate seismicity caused by hydraulic fracturing. Additional research is being done to understand the mechanisms that initiate seismicity, and to predict and prevent these events.
As well as informing decisions, Geoscience B.C. research is leading to new and useful innovations. A good example of this is the GHGMap project, which is adapting technology developed for NASA’s Mars mission to create a new drone-mounted sensor to ‘sniff’ for greenhouse gases and provide live measurements. Working with the energy sector to test this technology at oil and gas sites in northeastern British Columbia has shown that this mobile technology can provide more effective measurement than static monitoring or computer-based models. This may prove useful in developing best practices, as well as climate action policy and regulation.
Each of these research projects is providing the science needed for evidence-based decisions, for industry to continually improve, and to guide policy and regulation. To keep B.C. at the forefront of responsible oil and gas development, independent and public earth science has never been more important.
Carlos Salas is executive vice-president and chief scientific officer of Geoscience B.C., which generates independent, public geoscience research and data about B.C.’s minerals, energy and water resources.
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