On January 30, 2012, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) announced new voluntary Canada-wide operating practices for hydraulic fracturing operations (the Operating Practices). The Operating Practices bolster existing water management practices and fluids reporting with respect to the development of unconventional natural gas, such as shale gas and tight gas.

Hydraulic fracturing – also called “fracking” – is the process of pumping a fluid or gas, usually containing sand, down a natural gas well to create pressure which results in the cracking or fracturing of the surrounding rock. The fluid and sand then flow into the cracks and when the pumping pressure is relieved, the water disperses, leaving a thin layer of the sand to prop open the cracks which allows natural gas to flow to the well. While widely regarded by industry as a safe and effective process, there has been recent public concern over fracking fluids and potential contamination of water resources.

Overview of Operating Practices

The Operating Practices were developed in concert with natural gas producers in support of the industry’s Guiding Principles for Hydraulic Fracturing, which were released by CAPP in September 2011. The Operating Practices represent a transparent and responsible approach to water management, protection of water resources during sourcing, use and handling and continuous improvement in fracking operations.

In addition to recommending compliance with regulations related to fracking operations and water use and protection, the Operating Practices set out a number of principles and practices regarding:

  • fracturing fluid additive disclosure
  • fracturing fluid risk assessment and management
  • baseline groundwater testing
  • wellbore construction and quality assurance
  • water sourcing, measuring and reuse
  • fluid transport, handling, storage and disposal.

Although voluntary, the Operating Practices are intended to apply to all CAPP members that explore for and produce natural gas in Canada.

Impact of Operating Practices

The Operating Practices are part of the natural gas industry’s ongoing effort to ensure transparency and responsible resource development. They represent an encouraging step towards assuring stakeholders that fracking is safe and that water resources will be protected.

Despite the fact that Canada is home to abundant unconventional natural gas sources, regulations specific to fracking and fracking fluids disclosure have not been passed in most provinces.

To date, British Columbia is the only province in Canada that enforces the public disclosure of fracking ingredients. It is expected that the Operating Practices will set the standard for new – and complement existing – regulatory requirements regarding fracking and fracking fluids disclosure.