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sector_ico_Environment_trans Environment

Natural Attenuation and Phytoremediation of Fracking Fluids

  • Project Leaders: Sean Crowe, Diane Almeida, Shawn Mansfield, Laurie Welch
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $353,500
  • Competition: User Partnership Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome BC
  • Fiscal Year: 2016
  • Status: Active

As lead user, the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BC OGC) is partnering with Progress Energy, UBC’s Crowe Geo-microbiology Lab, and Mansfield’s Plant Genomics lab on a research initiative to create new knowledge of both natural attenuation and phytoremediation potential for fracturing (frac) fluid components in Northern British Columbia. Shale gas, the natural resource that feeds BC’s LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) strategy, is extracted by relatively new technologies using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracing). Fracing employs large volumes of water and additives to increase permeability in shale formations and boost gas flow into the wells. The ultimate fate of additives (surfactants, polymers, biocides, among others) and shale derivatives (salt, metals), and their effect on the well environment, surrounding groundwater, and soils are not well understood.

BC OGC, the industry, and the province of BC are concerned about the environmental impacts of potential spills/releases of additives or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing additives and derivatives during routine shale gas extraction operations. In addition, the saline nature of the waters can have a significant impact on the local ecosystem and the ability for vegetation to re-establish at well sites. Moreover, industry is required to mitigate soil and groundwater contamination associated with fracing operations and gas extraction, and knowledge related to contaminant fate and transport, can facilitate remediation efforts and reduce associated financial liability.

The current project is the first phase of a multi-phase program to develop effective and cost efficient remediation technologies based on the combined activities of soil microbial communities and trees.

During the next 18 months, the team will create new knowledge on the attenuation and remediation of key contaminants associated with shale gas development, and will identify potential cost saving strategies that could be implemented, and later refined in future remediation programs.