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Shell uses recycled water for Dawson Creek fracking

Company funds majority of $12.5-million effluent treatment plant, city gets to use leftover water

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun September 7, 2012

Shell Canada and the city of Dawson Creek have teamed up to build an effluent treatment facility at Dawson Creek that eliminates the oil and gas company’s need for Peace River water at its nearby Groundbirch natural gas venture.

The new plant, which was officially opened Friday, will conserve up to 4,000 cubic metres of water a day at Shell’s hydraulic fracturing operations, Dawson Creek mayor Mike Bernier said Friday.

Shell invested more than $11 million in the project while the city provided $1.5 million. The total cost is estimated at $12 to $13 million. The water, said Bernier, is almost as clean as the city’s tap water.

Water use by oil and gas companies is a controversial issue in the Peace River region, which can be subject to drought conditions. Hydraulic fracturing requires huge volumes of water, which are pumped underground with sand and lubricating chemicals to crack shale formations, releasing the gas trapped inside. Most companies use surface water and water produced from drilling operations.

The Dawson Creek treatment plant has been in operation for a month, converting 4,000 cubic metres of treated sewer water a day. Now that Shell is using the city’s treated waste water, it will not be drawing water from its 5,000-cubic-metre-a-day licence on the Peace River.

“We’ve got the water that we needed to use from a source that was basically waste water from the city. Building a plant allows us to get that cleaned up for our operation but also leaves some excess for the city. So it’s a win-win for both parties,” said Russ Ford, executive vice-president in charge of Shell’s onshore oil and gas business in the Americas.

The company is retaining the water licence, but won’t sell or transfer it to another company, he said.

“It takes some of the stress out of the system in an area that can get kind of dry,” Ford said. “You reuse what you take out of the city rather than going to river points or other places where we are permitted to take water.”

Shell has built a 48-kilometre-long pipeline from the treatment plant to its Groundbirch site, where it has 250 wells, a gas-gathering system and five natural gas treatment plants.

“We have places where we can store water in the field so we can build up a supply in anticipation for days when we will use more water than the plant can put out,” said Ford.

On average, he said, Shell will use less than the 4,000 cubic metres the city’s system produces. The excess water will be used by the city for watering parks and sports fields, and will be sold to other gas companies, bringing in additional revenue to the city, said Bernier.

Bernier said the city put out a request for proposals to oil and gas companies two years ago to partner with the city on the plant.

“We recognized as a council that we were continually going through droughts in the region, and we recognized that the industry needs large amounts of water for their fracking. They were using a lot of our potable water and we wanted to get to the point where we could get industry off our potable water without having a negative effect on them.”

He said the plant brings the city’s effluent “almost up to potable standards.”

“Now we have about 4,000 cubic metres of water a day going through this effluent plant that can be used for fracking instead of surface water or the city’s treated water,” Bernier said.

Previously, Dawson Creek had been treating its effluent to the minimum environmental standards required and releasing it into a local river.

“Now instead of being dumped back into that river, it is being treated and reused.”

He described Shell as a company that understands it requires a social licence to operate in the Dawson Creek region. Shell had also been trucking water from the city to Groundbirch, which was an issue for local landowners because of the traffic and dust on regional roads.

“This project wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Shell coming forward and saying that they would pay for a majority of it.”

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