On December 12, 2012, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation
Board (ERCB) released a report (PDF) on the blowout of an oil well that
occurred earlier this year near Innisfail, Alberta. The report came
out a week after the ERCB released draft regulations (PDF) aimed at preventing
interwellbore communication during hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
operations – the same issue that the ERCB's concluded led
to the Innisfail blowout.
The blowout occurred at a conventional oil well near Innisfail,
Alberta. As a result of the blowout, nearly 500 barrels of oil,
water and fracking fluid was released to the surface, impacting an
area approximately 200 x 225 metres.
The ERCB concluded that the blowout occurred as a result of
fracking operations in a neighbouring well that had inadequate
separation to the conventional oil well.
The two wellbores passed within 129 metres of each other at
their nearest point. The conventional oil wellbore was a vertical
well in production; the wellbore in which fracking operations were
being carried out was a horizontal well. Both wells were targeting
the same geologic formation and communication between the two wells
occurred within this formation at a depth of approximately 1850
As a conventional well, its components were not pressure rated
and, once communication between it and the fracking well occurred,
the well failed, causing fracking fluid, oil and natural gas to be
released at the surface. There was no release at the fracking well
In its report, the ERCB noted that the fracking operator did not
notify the operator of the neighbouring conventional well that
fracking operations were about to commence. The ERCB also noted
that no regulations were in place to restrict the type of operation
carried out, or to specify the minimum distance between fracking
wells and other wellbores.
As a result, enforcement action was not taken against the
fracking operator; however, the ERCB is introducing regulations to
guard against future incidents.
The Fracking Regulations
On December 6, 2012, the ERCB released draft regulations related
to sub-surface issues associated with fracking activities in
Alberta. The draft regulations are specifically aimed at the
prevention of interwellbore communication—the cause of the
Innisfail blowout—and the prevention of impacts to aquifers,
water wells and the surface.
The proposed regulations establish obligations on fracking
operators with respect to the identification and assessment of
other wells within the "fracture planning zone" (FPZ).
For each well within the FPZ an operator must assess its well
integrity, undertake a risk assessment and establish control and
mitigation measures to maintain well integrity. The operator must
also establish a monitoring plan for each well within the FPZ and a
response plan in the event of an incident.
The proposed regulations also require the fracking operator to
follow guidelines with respect to nonsaline aquifers and restrict
fracking operations within 100 metres vertical and 200 metres
horizontal separation from any water well. The ERCB is accepting
feedback on the draft regulations until January 13, 2013.
In its News Release that accompanied the investigation report,
the ERCB noted the rarity of incidents like the Innisfail blowout.
Nonetheless, the ERCB has taken the step of introducing an
additional layer of regulation in an attempt to mitigate both the
real and perceived risks of fracking operations.
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In Bank of Montreal v Bumper Development Corporation Ltd, 2016 ABQB 363, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench enforced the "immediate replacement" provision in the Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen 2007 Operating Procedure...
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