The water restrictions are having little effect on oil and gas companies, most of which have made provision for the dry season.
Despite oil and gas companies in northeast British Columbia being severely restricted from withdrawing water from the region for their operations, the industry is stating the suspension of those water withdrawals is having little impact.
The BC Oil and Gas Commission issued a directive earlier this month suspending all short-term water withdrawal licences issued to operators in the Northeast, with the exception of five rivers and two reservoirs, as well as water stored in dugouts. The directive is in response to below-average snowpack and rainfall levels in many areas of the region resulting in near-or-below-record river flows ranging from 10 to 40 per cent of normal flow.
The River Forecast Centre reports that the Kiskatinaw River near Farmington, for example, has a seven-day average flow of 0.19 cubic metres per second, or six per cent of median flow for this period, while the Moberly River near Fort St. John has a seven-day average flow of 0.74 metres per second, or 13 per cent of the median flow for this period.
The exceptions to the directive include the Peace, Pine, Halfway, Sikanni Chief and Muskwa Rivers, as well as the Williston Lake and Dinosaur Lake Reservoirs, which are experiencing near-normal levels.
“We will issue updates if any rivers or reservoirs are added to the list, or when the suspension is lifted,” said Hardy Friedrich, spokesperson for the Oil and Gas Commission.
“Any reports of non-compliance are followed up immediately by the Commission, in addition to any issues of non-compliance inspectors may notice in the field,” he added.
The Commission reports having over 1,200 water withdrawal licences issued to nearly 30 companies operating in the region, including many for those rivers and streams affected by the directive. However, at least some of those producer companies state the restrictions were not unforeseen and have not had a tangible impact on activity this month.
“We understand there is some pressure in the summer months so that the levels in the water sources go down, so the announcement is not totally unexpected, and what we do is try to conduct our operations such that we are withdrawing in periods where those levels are high,” said David Haugen, vice president of engineering for Quicksilver Resources.
That is despite his company having four separate licences for water withdrawal in the Lower Petitot River, a tributary of the Liard River located in the very northeast corner of the province. Haugen said his company coordinates the peak of activity to match the peak of river flows in that area.
“In our case, in 2012, we conducted our [well] completion activity in the spring, and it’s just finishing up now,” he said.
One of the largest producer companies operating all over the region, Encana, also anticipated its water demand earlier in the year and planned accordingly.
“We typically line up our water a few months in advance in terms of where and how we will meet our needs, so that’s why, in the short term, this directive won’t affect us too much,” said spokesperson Jay Averill.
“In addition, we don’t have a lot of completions happening right now, which is where the bulk of our water use happens.”
He said, as with Quicksilver Resources, much of his company’s well completions took place earlier in the year, and that any current demand is being met through other sources.
“For our part, what we’re doing right now to meet our current water needs is using water from dugouts, and we also recycle an amount of water to reuse in our operations,” he said. “We’re also fortunate because we’re able to tap into an underground water source, saline water, which is non-potable water.”
Still, Encana holds literally hundreds of short-term water licences in the region, including many affected by the suspension, and Averill was not able to confirm how much his company relies on non-dugout, surface water sources as opposed to those other alternatives. He said the water restrictions due underlie the need for continued efficiencies in how the industry uses water.
“It does highlight how we need to manage water effectively, and make sure we use it wisely, because it is an important resource for both industry and community.”
Shell, another petroleum giant operating primarily in the Groundbirch area west of Dawson Creek, has also been able to find water from other sources than the Kiskatinaw River, for example.
“Right now we’re not seeing any impact to our operations,” said Stephen Doolan. “We are able to still utilize water from dugouts, and if necessary, withdraw some water from the Peace River.”
Shell does also have a contract with the City of Dawson Creek that provides the company with up to 3,400 cubic metres of reclaimed waste water per day over the next 10 years in exchange for providing over $10 million to build the treatment facility.
None of the representatives from these companies cared to speculate on how activity may be affected if the suspension persists, even though Environment Canada is predicting below-average precipitation to persist at least in the Dawson Creek area well into October.