Unconventional Wastewater Management: A comparative review and analysis of hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices across four North American basins

Principal Investigator - Greg Goss, Professor, University of Alberta, 2014 - 2015

Hydraulic fracturing has long been employed in the oil and gas industry. However, the advent of new horizontal drilling techniques unlocked vast shale gas and oil reserves across North America, virtually changing the industry overnight. Such a dramatic change in pace and scale of activity has led to a proliferation of stakeholder concerns, particularly around water usage, and a corresponding array of seemingly irreconcilable information. Within some areas, operators and regulators have become increasingly concerned with their social license to operate (SLO) – the level of acceptance/approval by local communities and stakeholders. To address this ambiguity, there is a need for a comparative review of hydraulic fracturing practices and policies to demonstrate differences in factors that govern water use in the industry.


The research team conducted an extensive, multidisciplinary review of wastewater handling, treatment, reuse and disposal as they relate to hydraulic fracturing by comparing the practices, legislation and policies that have been implemented in various North American shale formations as well as use of freshwater and demand management. The objective of the review was to summarize and assess current knowledge regarding wastewater management and to identify critical gaps to be addressed by future research. This was accomplished using a combination of direct interviews with specific stakeholders to gather current practices for wastewater management, and through collaboration with regulators to assess current understanding and practices by jurisdiction. Emphasis was on formations with extensive experience in hydraulic fracturing wastewater handling and treatment (Montney, British Columbia; Duverney, Alberta; formations in Western Canada), as well as relatively undeveloped but strategically important reserves elsewhere in Canada (Horton Bluff- Nova Scotia and Frederick Brook- New Brunswick).

The approach and work plan are based on the three tasks:

  • Water treatment and disposal practices – review geocoded well database of Pennsylvania, and extend to include hydraulically fractured wells in Canada
  • Risk management and social license to operate – examine the extent to which SLO is an explicit concern across basins; efforts that have been undertaken to secure, enhance or restore SLO; and, evidence that these efforts have made a difference
  • Policy regimes and voids within and across jurisdictions – assess how treatment standards differ across basins; primary influences on current standards; correlation between complaints and treatment standards/policies; and, effect of regulatory standards on obtaining/maintaining SLO
  • Development of a cohesive report on the potential strengths and weaknesses of the research approaches and policies
  • Knowledge generated will be used in the public/private sectors to inform research on potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water
  • Provide regulators, users and the general public with an understanding of the current knowledge around hydraulic fracturing and wastewater management
Goss HF 288

research team and partners:

Research Team

Greg Goss, Professor, University of Alberta
Daniel Alessi, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta
Joel Gehman, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta
Diana M. Allen, Professor, Simon Fraser University
Dave Guichon, Project Manager, Alberta WaterSMART
Jason Brisbois, Managing Director, University of Alberta Water Initiative
Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Professor, University of Alberta


Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Alberta WaterSMART
BC Oil and Gas Commission
New Brunswick Department of Environment & Local Government
Alberta Energy Regulator



2015 Goss report cover hydraulic fracturing