Reducing our Impact

Coloured text shows that in 2008 Groundbirch operations used 100 per cent freshwater and in in ten years improved to use over 98 per cent recycled water in 2018.

At Groundbirch, we work to minimize our fresh water use, improve our processes and share best practices as we build a responsible and sustainable asset.

  • We minimize fresh water use by recycling and reusing water from our processing plants and gas wells (produced water).
  • In 2008, Shell acquired the Groundbirch asset which used 100% fresh water at the time. Today, more than 98% of water used in our operations is recycled.
  • In 2012, we partnered with the city of Dawson Creek, B.C. to build a reclaimed water facility to treat the city’s wastewater for reuse in the industry and community.
  • Our first water storage facility was built at the Sunset gas plant, followed by another storage facility at our Saturn plant. Initially, these ponds were used for the Dawson Creek Reclaimed Water Project, but as our processes evolved, they transitioned to store produced water for recycle into our operations.
  • By 2014, Groundbirch had almost completely relieved its reliance on the Dawson Creek Reclaimed Water Project. The municipality now uses the reclaimed water for dust control on local roads, and sells it to other producers to offset their fresh water use.

  • Water pipelines built throughout our field distribute water between our assets, minimize traffic, reduce emissions, noise and dust, and improve road safety.
  • When fracking new wells, we use almost 100% recycled produced water.
  • We offer five-year sampling of domestic wells to anyone within our operational footprint.
  • We complete water well testing before, during and after development activities.
  • The engineering and leak detection designs of our water storage ponds have been adopted by the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission and are the default for Shell Global Projects & Technology, and Development.

Dawson Creek reclaimed water project

Our Water Use

Two large silver water pipes emerge from underground in the Groundbirch field.
As part of the Groundbirch water management system, which includes storing, recycling, and sharing our produced water with other industry users, we still have excess water in our system that needs to be managed and disposed of in a responsible way.

Why Groundbirch needs water

The Montney formation consists of a mixture of low permeability sandstone, siltstone and shale lying about 2,500 metres below the surface. Low permeability means it is difficult for the gas to flow through the rock and so we must employ special technology to produce this resource.

When a well is drilled we use water and drilling fluids to lubricate the drill bit and flow drill cuttings to surface. Once a well is drilled, it is completed using a technology called hydraulic fracturing that involves injecting water mixed with sand plus additives down through the well bore and into the formation deep below the Earth’s surface.

The pressure created by the water fractures the rocks providing a path for the gas to flow into the wellbore. Sand is used to keep the fractures open so the gas flows more freely.

For Groundbirch, fracturing occurs at depths approximately 8,000 feet or 2,500 metres below the surface – this means there are many layers of rock (about 2.5 km) between where the fracturing occurs and the shallow freshwater aquifers and the surface.

During initial production approximately 20 per cent of water injected comes back to the surface as flowback water. The rest of the water flows back during the long-term production (otherwise known as produced water). The flowback and produced water is collected, stored and reused for other completion operations.

Groundwater Protection

A cross section of the Earth’s subsurface that shows the components of a well measured in relation to aquafers and various rock layers

Shell ensures the protection of fresh water sources near our wells in three stages.

First, a corrosion-resistant steel pipe, or casing, is inserted into the shallow well and cemented into place. This creates a barrier that prevents fluids from the well from mixing with the sand and gravel at the surface.

The second stage is the insertion of a second casing, called surface casing, between 500-600 metres into the well. Once cemented into place, this will protect any shallow aquifers used by location landowners. Before drilling resumes, the structural integrity of the cement is confirmed.

Once this is done, the final production casing is lowered into the well, fully isolating the hydrocarbons from their surroundings.