Advancing Canada’s Ability to Address Critical Questions for Hydraulic Fracturing and Water

May 1, 2014

Canadian Water Network (CWN) welcomes the release of a new report by the Canadian Council of Academies on shale gas; Canada’s most comprehensive assessment to date on the state of the knowledge of the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Given the important questions surrounding unconventional oil and gas development and the rapid increase in use of hydraulic fracturing in North America, CWN launched a program in 2013 to accelerate Canada’s ability to respond to the knowledge gaps articulated by the report, and address priorities that are important to Canadians.

The Council's report identified potential environmental risks to water resources as a priority concern, among others.  Review of the scientific literature identified important research gaps, including those needed to understand the potential impacts of chemical fracturing-fluids on surface water, groundwater, and changes in hydrology and water infiltration caused by new infrastructure. The report also highlights the critical role of providing credible research to effectively address both social and economic considerations.  The report states, “Well targeted science is required to ensure a better understanding of the environmental impacts of shale gas development.” The report prefaces this need by expressing that, “An important issue not yet addressed in Canada concerns what questions should receive research priority and how Canada should proceed to organize shale gas research.”

CWN tackles national water research priorities through collaboratively-funded programs that ensure credibility of the science and transparency of the results.  CWN stresses the importance of a knowledge-based approach focused on supporting key decisions.  “Both practice and public policy related to hydraulic fracturing should be informed by the best available science,” notes Simon Courtenay, CWN’s Scientific Director. “This science must be relevant to decision makers’ information needs to help improve their ability to manage Canada’s natural resources.”

Bernadette Conant, CWN’s Executive Director adds that, “Canadian Water Network’s program will help to move decisions and priority actions forward in areas of vital importance to Canadians.”  CWN, a federally supported Network of Centres of Excellence, launched the program to address five key areas of concern with regard to water and hydraulic fracturing: water use and management; wastewater handling, treatment and disposal; groundwater issues; landscape impacts; and watershed governance, including aboriginal issues. 

CWN has invested $500,000 with five national multidisciplinary teams to evaluate the best available research approaches that could effectively advance decisions related to hydraulic fracturing and water. The teams include researchers from 18 universities across Canada, along with 20 partners, including First Nations groups, government, industry and non-governmental organizations.  These research projects are now underway, with a completion date of March 31, 2015:

  • Unconventional Wastewater Management: A comparative review and analysis of hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices across four North American basins
  • Subsurface Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing, Including Contamination, Seismic Sensitivity, and Groundwater Use and Demand Management
  • Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Knowledge Integration: Landscape impacts
  • Development of a Water Safety Framework for Watershed and Water Demand Governance and Management Approaches Related to Hydraulic Fracturing
  • Not Just a License to Drill: Exploring the challenges of water governance and hydraulic fracturing in Canada

For complete details about CWN’s program on hydraulic fracturing, visit our Hydraulic Fracturing section on our website.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process used to extract shale gas, natural gas, and oil from rock formations with low permeability.  It is estimated that there may be trillions of cubic feet of shale gas in Canada, with significant economic potential.  Some provinces are already engaged in hydraulic fracturing, while others are in the preliminary stages of exploration and development, or have declared a moratorium due to environmental and public concerns.

In 2012, Canada’s Environment Minister asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) – an arm’s length scientific advisory body – to provide an evidence-based assessment on the state of knowledge of potential environmental impacts from the exploration, extraction, and development of Canada’s shale gas resources, and the state of knowledge of associated mitigation options. Their findings, “Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada,” were developed by an expert panel and included rigorous peer review.

About Canadian Water Network

Headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, Canadian Water Network (www.cwn-rce.ca) was created in 2001 by the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program to connect international water researchers with decision-makers engaged in priority water management issues. Canadian Water Network works to harness the expertise of researchers to improve the ability of practitioners and implementers to respond to water challenges.

For more information, please contact:

Kathryn Ross

Media and Public Relations Coordinator 

(519) 888-4567 ext. 37709

kross@cwn-rce.ca