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Meet the frackers

Several natural gas industry experts are in Yukon this week to talk about fracking, and what it could mean for the Yukon. Brad Hayes is president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd.

Several natural gas industry experts are in Yukon this week to talk about fracking, and what it could mean for the Yukon.

Brad Hayes is president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd., which offers professional services to the oil and gas industry.

He has been invited to speak at Yukon College on Friday as part of a Canadian tour.

The talk is directed primarily at geoscience students, but anyone who is interested in the oil and gas industry would likely get a lot out of it, too, said Hayes in an interview this week.

The industry has become more and more concerned about water in recent years, he said.

His consulting firm is spending much more time on hydrology issues, said Hayes.

“In Canada we’re probably spending about half of our time mapping water in the subsurface for the petroleum industry.”

The reason for the shift is the explosion of shale gas development in Alberta and British Columbia.

Getting at natural gas trapped in tight shale requires a controversial method called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The process involves pumping a pressurized slurry of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to crack apart the rock.

Fracking plus advancements in drilling technology that allow for drilling horizontally through rock have resulted in a boom in the natural gas industry as previously inaccessible gas sources have been opened up.

Because of the large amounts of water required for the job, expertise in water systems has become much more important to the industry, said Hayes.

“There’s lots of work on the geoscience front in understanding where the water is, where it comes from, where you can put it away and how it might interact with shallower groundwater zones.”

There are good regulations in place in other jurisdictions to manage how water is used in the industry, he said.

The key is making sure the regulations are followed, said Hayes.

In some places, the industry is not allowed to use surface water for hydraulic fracturing, he said. Instead, the companies have to find salty deep water aquifers if they want to frack.

The water, after it has been used, is typically disposed of by putting in back into the deep underground.

The talk will take place Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the lecture hall at Yukon College.

Two other industry representatives are in town this week.

The Yukon Chamber of Commerce invited Aaron Miller and John Hogg to give a Wednesday lunch talk about oil and gas development in the North.

Hogg is a geologist and the vice president of MGM Energy Corp., which is currently working to develop the fracking industry in the area around Norman Wells, N.W.T.

Miller is the northern manager with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Hogg said in an interview this week that there are significant differences between what the industry looks like in B.C. and Alberta and what it might look like in the Yukon.

The pace of development in the North is more controlled because government largely controls the land disposition process and there are extensive environmental review processes that must be completed, he said.

And in the North, where shale development is new, it is much easier to track baseline water conditions and ensure that groundwater is not polluted, said Hogg.

The biggest water issue is not where it comes from or where it gets disposed of, he said.

Water can be sourced from deep, non-drinkable aquifers and sequestered back into them.

The biggest risk is how water is treated when it is above-ground, said Hogg.

In the North, water is typically stored in above-ground tanks, to avoid interaction with permafrost, he said.

The risk of contaminating groundwater can be managed by taking care with how frack water is handled above ground, he said.

In his company’s operations in N.W.T., about nearly half of the labour is sourced locally, he said.

“I think, for the most part, the benefits go directly to the community. Whether it’s a water-hauler with his family and three trucks that are working with us, or a cat skinner and his family, that money stays in the community.”

Miller said he is not sure why the fracking industry has drawn such ire from environmentalists and other critics.

“It has become a lighting rod. It has become, metaphorically speaking, a political football. The operative word in that is political. I think it’s highly ideological and again, a precise answer as to why, I don’t know.”

“A lot of them may simply be anti-development people,” added Hogg.

Hogg and Miller will meet with MLAs and other interested groups during their stay in the Yukon.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at