May 29, 2006

Water resource protection a leading issue in coalbed methane development

Protection of Alberta's surface and subsurface water supplies are the focus of fully one-third of the 44 recommendations made by an advisory committee on coalbed methane development. Its final report, presented to the provincial government earlier this month, has been accepted as a blueprint for future development of this energy resource in the province. The multi-stakeholder advisory committee has also made recommendations relating to surface and air impacts and industry best practices, as well as fiscal and broader energy sector issues.

Coalbed methane (CBM) is natural gas found within coal seams. It is classified as "sweet," containing no hydrogen sulfide, and is of near-pipeline grade when produced. In 2005, CBM wells produced a total of 2.1 billion cubic metres of natural gas, and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) estimates that more than 6,000 CBM wells were drilled last year.

Among the recommendations on which Alberta Environment, the EUB and/or Alberta Sustainable Resources Development will begin work this fiscal year are:

*development of a "decision tree" approach for reviewing CBM drilling applications involving non-saline water production;

*enhancement of Alberta Environment's 2004 guidelines for groundwater diversion for CBM development;

*review of drilling and completion practices for new and re-completed water and energy wells;

*investigation of CBM drilling and completion practices such as using untreated river water;

*review of regulatory processes to support minimal surface disturbance and reduced cumulative impacts associated with CBM development; and

*review and provision of appropriate recommendations for protecting the environment and minimizing cumulative impacts of CBM development.

Work has already begun on a number of other recommendations, such as improving scientific information on Alberta's water resources, setting an appropriate threshold volume for produced non-saline water, improving the science and technology for remediation and reclamation of land in sensitive areas potentially affected by CBM development, and investigating the potential for methane migration or release to water wells as a result of CBM depressurization. Based on the results of this last investigation, the committee's report calls for Alberta Environment to implement, starting in 2007-08, any necessary measures to deal with methane migration or release.

Mrore than 1,000 Albertans participated in the advisory committee's consultation over the past two years. Over the next year, the committee will continue to meet and monitor progress on the action plan.

Further information, including the committee's final report, is available on Alberta Energy's Web site, www.energy.gov.ab.ca/245.asp.

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