France is an excellent example of a successful water reduction program. Between 2015 and 2017, we have reduced water consumption by 30%, from 682,000 cubic metres to 478,374. A significant part of this was our conversion of a suspended oil well located at our Vic Bilh asset into a saline water producing well for injection support.
Hydraulic fracturing is a government-regulated technology that has been successfully used in North America for more than 60 years. Some formations will not produce hydrocarbons without hydraulic fracturing, so we elect to use this rock stimulation method on some wells in Canada and the United States to enhance their productive capability. We use fracturing only in semi-conventional clastic reservoirs, and we do not develop shale reservoirs. Our semi-conventional development activities in North America are also much less frac intensive than shale development, requiring much lower volumes of sand and water. Based on independent economic assessments, we also have derived better returns for shareholders as a result of developing this expertise in semi-conventional reservoirs as opposed to shales. Government regulations, in combination with industry operating practices and Vermilion’s own focus on Best-in-Class HSE and Operational Excellence, help ensure safeguards are in place to protect the environment, including freshwater aquifers, and to ensure safe and responsible operations.
Vermilion remains a conventional producer in Europe, not employing hydraulic fracturing in any of our European operations.
Improving Water Management: As the single largest component used in hydraulic fracturing operations, water is essential to developing unconventional oil and gas wells in North America. Operationally and environmentally, we continue to work hard to establish the most efficient and sustainable ways of sourcing and reusing this resource. G4-EN10, G4-EN23
Approximately one-quarter of the water we pump during a Canadian frac, for example, returns immediately during flowback operations. We then employ fracture fluid technology that lets us re-use this flowback water on subsequent wells. We are also assessing where we can adjust completion schedules to optimize water use, and recycle flowback water to reduce overall make-up water requirements. Finally, we are also looking at the potential of using produced water (non-potable water produced with oil and gas) from our operations to replace fresh water use.
Groundwater Protection: We operate in accordance with strict regulations and Industry Recommended Practices (IRPs) that protect groundwater sources through exploration and production phases. For example, Petroleum Services Association of Canada’s IRP #14 ensures that non-toxic, water-based drilling fluid is used when penetrating freshwater aquifers down to the government-established base of groundwater protection, then steel casing is put in place and cemented in permanently to isolate the upper portion of the well while drilling to the final reservoir target.
In Alberta, the Cardium formation is Vermilion’s shallowest development play that uses hydraulic fracturing practices to stimulate the formation. Here, as in our other areas of operation, we employ micro-seismic and computer modeling to ensure we are not contacting or impacting potable water aquifers through our activities. The micro-seismic events measured during hydraulic fracturing operations indicate the height and extent of the fracture system. The seismic data tells us that a typical hydraulic fracture height in the Cardium interval is up to 100 metres. We also know that the Cardium interval is typically found at 1,750 metres below surface and the base of the deepest groundwater is at approximately 600 metres. We therefore maintain an approximate separation distance of 1,100 metres of rock from the base of groundwater protection to the top of the hydraulic fracture.
Ensuring Containment: Flowback fluids are contained onsite in a closed system, where they are later treated and re-used, or disposed of at authorized facilities at the conclusion of a program. In addition to accessing current technology in our operations, Vermilion has been involved in trialing many new and emerging technologies, and we have invested time and money in an effort to make them viable. Examples of this include research and development to implement technology that allows for the treatment and re-use of advanced gel chemical fracture flowback fluids. This approach reduces the freshwater needed to complete wells and the volume of water disposed of via deep well injection.
We publicly disclose all of the additives we use to FracFocus, as well as via our regulatory submissions. We continue to work to decrease the required concentration of our additives and we work with our fracturing suppliers to source even better alternatives for future consideration.