Hydraulic fracturing and water

Albertans can be proud of the role that energy development has played in the prosperity we enjoy today and its role in realizing a prosperous future.  As a government, we are committed to developing oil and gas resources in a safe, sustainable way to benefit all Albertans.

Recent advances in technology have made accessing “unconventional” energy resources more economical.  Hydraulic fracturing is one such technology.

Graphic shows the cross section of a shall gas well bore. Image courtesy of CAPP

Cross section of a shale gas well bore.

“Fracking” is not new in Alberta.  Nearly 171,000 wells have been drilled since the technology was first introduced in the 1950s.  We have a proven safety record based on 60 years of experience and a comprehensive regulatory system that we continue to review and improve as we respond to new technology, knowledge and research.

Experiences in other parts of North America, and a growing awareness of the potential demands for water has raised the interests and questions among Albertans about what this could mean for us.  Whether it is about overall water use, or concerns about what it could mean to water supply, it is clear that citizens want to talk about the potential impacts, which is why it’s one of the topics of Alberta’s water conversation.

To date, multi-stage hydraulic fracturing has been isolated far below fresh groundwater supplies.  There are strict regulations in place to ensure groundwater is protected and as technology evolves, techniques improve.

Currently in Alberta:

  • Fracture fluid must be disposed of safely, and is prohibited from being released into the environment.
  • Limits are placed on the horizontal and vertical distance of fracturing activities from water wells.
  • Casing and cementing requirements form an impenetrable barrier between fluids in the wellbore and the adjacent rock formations and useable aquifers.
  • Chemicals and total water used are reported and available to the public through the FracFocus online portal or by contacting ERCB.
Photo of workers drilling a new water monitoring well

Drilling a new water monitoring well

In addition to strict regulations, groundwater is being mapped and water quality and quantity is being tested by adding more monitoring wells to the Groundwater Observation Well Network.

  • This spring, 16 new monitoring wells will be added in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring.
  • Baseline water well testing programs for Coalbed Methane are available to assure landowners in proximity of unconventional resource development that their water well supplies are protected.

We are committed to the responsible development of our energy resources.  Protecting our water quality and minimizing water use during hydraulic fracturing operations is our main priority.  Work to enhance our existing policies is underway, but we want to know your thoughts and ideas on how to enable hydraulic fracturing while safeguarding our water supplies.

Some key questions are:

  • Going forward, what environmental principles should we follow in regulating hydraulic fracturing?
  • What specific programs or practices would reassure you that water is being protected?Cover of the Water Conversation guide

Alberta’s water belongs to all Albertans.  How it’s managed and protected should be discussed. We encourage you to participate in the water conversation:

We look forward to hearing from you!


Steve Wallace, groundwater policy expert with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

Hydraulic fracturing animated demonstration video courtesy of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

2 thoughts on “Hydraulic fracturing and water

  1. Water was being drawn from Sheep Creek near Grande Cache on Jan 9 2016 for the purpose of fracking. Why would this be allowed on the most productive Bull Trout stream in the area when the flow is so very low? If water needs to be drawn it could come form the Smokey River which has 100x the flow of Sheep Creek. This is lunacy at best.

    • Hi Gerry,

      The Alberta Energy Regulator AER is the regulator of energy development in Alberta, and responsible for its water allocations. If you have concerns that someone is causing, has caused, or may cause an adverse impact to public safety, the environment, or personal property, please call the Energy and Environmental 24-hour Response Line at 1-800-222-6514.

      If you have an inquiry or regulatory question, please contact the Alberta Energy Regulator Customer Contact Centre at 1-855-297-8311 or inquiries@aer.ca.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s