Net Zero Fracking

Shell oil and gas operation instigates a unique recycled water partnership
Net Zero Fracking
Shell funded $16.5 million of the total $18 million construction budget for a recycled water plant in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada.

Hydraulic fracturing requires plenty of water. However, Shell Canada Energy has reduced its reliance on potable water to zero at the Montney tight gas formation in the Sunset-Groundbirch area of northeast British Columbia, Canada, by entering into a unique partnership with the City of Dawson Creek, 30 miles east. 

Shell’s venture currently includes multiple natural gas processing plants, more than 300 wells and more than 550 miles of gas-gathering pipeline.

Previously, some of the water used for fracking was drawn from the Peace River, about 30 miles away, and from Dawson Creek’s potable water supply. 

The city obtains its water from the nearby Kiskatinaw River. However, after a significant drought in 2006, the city began to look at the possibility of further recycling its treated wastewater effluent to a level that might be acceptable for use as hydraulic fracturing fluid. 

“We came up with some preliminary drawings,” says Kevin Henderson, Dawson Creek’s director of Infrastructure and Sustainable Development. “However, we didn’t know how we were going to pay for such a facility.” 

Shell heard about the project and approached the city with an offer. The energy company would contribute $16.5 million of the plant’s $18 million construction budget. 

According to the agreement, Shell would be compensated for its investment with a recycled water allotment. Of the 4,500 cubic meters of recycled water produced at the plant each day, Shell would retain rights to the first 3,400 cubic meters. Dawson Creek could use or sell the remaining water, and any water not used by Shell in a given day. 

A Shell pumping station built next to the Dawson Creek Reclaimed Water Project would convey the water, via pipeline, to Groundbirch. The station contains a pump, a backup pump and a pig launcher used for routine line maintenance. 

“As Shell was beginning our operations in northeast BC, our first priority was building relationships with the community,” says Carson Newby, Groundbirch community affairs with Shell Canada Energy. “We listened to residents and heard concerns about water use in oil and gas operations and the number of water tanker trucks on local roads.” 

The plant opened in September 2012. In tandem with increased recycling of its own fracturing fluids, Shell now supplies its entire Groundbirch operation using Dawson Creek’s recycled water output. In fact, city records show that Shell frequently uses less water than its allotment. 

“In this partnership, Shell took on almost all of the risk,” Henderson says. “We now have an additional source of revenue, selling the water to other industrial consumers.” 

Once the province approves the use of recycled water for municipal purposes, the city is considering using some of it for irrigation of parks and for dust suppression. 

By pumping the recycled water to its holding ponds at Groundbirch, Shell has eliminated all water truck traffic to Dawson Creek, a total footprint of about two million miles driven each year. 

“We’re working to produce cleaner energy, to create social benefits, and to integrate social and environmental concerns into the way we do business,” says Newby. “Through partnerships like this one and by using new technologies we’re finding ways to help limit the impact of our operations on the environment.” 


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