Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique designed to enhance fluid flow and well productivity. In the course of this process, a fluid is mixed with sand and chemicals. This mixture is injected at high pressure into a wellbore creating small fractures in the subsurface geological formations that have been isolated for hydraulic fracturing purposes. These fractures allow for an increased flow of hydrocarbons into the wellbore. This technique is very common in wells drilled for shale gas, shale oil, tight gas, tight oil, coal seam gas and hard rock wells. This well stimulation process is usually conducted once in the life of the well, however, there has been an increasing trend towards multiple hydraulic fracturing operations as production declines.
A fracturing treatment occurred in the Flat Bay area in Western Newfoundland in 2004. No hydraulic fracturing has occurred on the west coast since 2004. Additional work has been proposed for several areas of Western Newfoundland where hydraulic fracturing potentially could be used. The Department of Natural Resources has not received a formal application for these approvals to date. Due to the public concern with the potential use of hydraulic fracturing, government feels that it is important to evaluate whether hydraulic fracturing is an appropriate activity for oil and gas development in Western Newfoundland and whether it should be banned or approved with appropriate risk management and use of best industry practices.
In November 2013, the Minister of Natural Resources announced that no applications for onshore and onshore-to-offshore petroleum exploration using hydraulic fracturing would be accepted until government could undertake a balanced review of regulations, rules and guidelines in other jurisdictions; complete the technical work necessary to fully assess the geological impact in Western Newfoundland; and following this process, undertake public consultations to ensure that residents can comment and are fully informed before any decisions relating to hydraulic fracturing are made.
Although formal moratoria have been legislated in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the “pause” in accepting applications involving hydraulic fracturing in Western Newfoundland is not a formal moratorium, despite sometimes being described as such by members of the public. Rather, the “pause” was an operational decision of the province’s Department of Natural Resources.
Upon receipt of the Panel’s Final Report, the Minister of Natural Resources announced on May 31, 2016 that “We received the final report yesterday and met with the panel to discuss the report. Our government has assembled a team to review the information and recommendations that have been put forward. In the meantime, the current policy to not accept applications for hydraulic fracturing will not be changing. Any future decisions regarding the hydraulic fracturing industry will be based on scientific evidence, and most importantly, on a social license from the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who may be affected“.