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REPORT: Methane found in groundwater in northeast BC occurs naturally

Wells were spaced both close to and distant from natural gas wells, and close to the communities of Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope.
USED 2020-06-21 GM13
Groundwater. David Hawke Photo

Most methane found in groundwater in northeast British Columbia occurs naturally, not as a result of natural gas development, according to newly published independent research.

Led by researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Energy and Environment Research Initiative, the Peace Region Scientific Groundwater Monitoring Network Installation Study focused on groundwater quality with a focus on the distribution, concentration and origin of dissolved hydrocarbons, principally methane. The research was funded by the BC Oil and Gas Commission, Geoscience BC, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation and Mitacs.

Researchers found that naturally occurring methane is ubiquitous in Peace Region groundwater, mostly at very low concentrations, and that there was no correlation between the amount of dissolved methane in the groundwater and proximity to natural gas wells.

Commenting on the publication of the final report and data from the project, Geoscience BC Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer Carlos Salas said peer-reviewed research like the Peace Region Scientific Groundwater Monitoring Network Installation Study is essential.

“To understanding our environment, and any impacts natural gas development may have. Like all Geoscience BC funded research, the report and data are public, and so can help to answer questions raised by industry, communities, Indigenous groups, governments, the regulator and other academics,” he said.

A key contribution of the research is an improved understanding of baseline levels of methane in groundwater systems in the Peace Region. Developing and supporting capabilities to detect and monitor gas migrating through the subsurface, as well as collection of baseline groundwater data, were key recommendations in the Province of British Columbia’s 2019 Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia report.

Project researcher and University of British Columbia Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Roger Beckie said the work helps to establish the quality of near-surface groundwater in northeastern British Columbia.

“Focusing on methane concentrations, in order to provide a knowledge base to make decisions about water and resource development.”

“The BC Oil and Gas Commission was pleased to support this study which contributes to the evolving body of knowledge to continually improve our understanding of important values such as groundwater in northeast British Columbia,” added Paul Jeakins, Commissioner and CEO, BC Oil and Gas Commission.

The research included installing a network of 29 new groundwater monitoring wells throughout the Peace Region, which will provide valuable infrastructure for future data collection and research. The wells were spaced both close to and distant from natural gas wells, and close to the communities of Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope.

Samples were taken from the wells over four sampling campaigns to understand the chemistry and dissolved gas content of groundwater. Domestic water wells in the area were also sampled.