Calgary-based electrical energy producer TransAlta Corp. is suing the Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator to prevent oil and fuel firms from fracking near its largest hydroelectric dam within the province as a result of the approach may cause earthquakes.
The court docket motion, which was filed in September within the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta, takes place as two oil and fuel firms have utilized to frack inside 5 kilometres of the dam.
TransAlta is anxious about potential seismic exercise inflicting injury to the Brazeau energy plant, near Drayton Valley in central Alberta, in addition to the lack of wildlife, habitat and human life.
The firm factors to an settlement from the Sixties, when the Brazeau Hydroelectric Dam was constructed, which states that TransAlta ought to “peacefully get pleasure from and possess the premises” with none “interruption or disturbance from the province, or every other individual.”
TransAlta additionally refers to a piece of the Brazeau Agreement, which states that the provincial government had agreed not to enable oilpatch exercise that can prohibit or intervene with the facility plant.
In court docket paperwork, the corporate stated the province “has not developed, applied or enacted any clear coverage directives that can defend the Brazeau Storage and Power Development from “unacceptable” dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing in shut proximity.”
The case highlights a rising debate within the scientific neighborhood concerning the threat of earthquakes posed by fracking.
Fracking is a standard approach within the oilpatch. When drilling an oil or pure fuel nicely, a high-pressure combination of water, sand and chemical substances are injected into an underground rock formation to create cracks and entry the hydrocarbons. The injection of these fluids has the potential to trigger earthquakes.
There have been 1000’s of documented instances of fracking exercise inflicting earthquakes in North America, together with in Alberta and British Columbia.
Limitations near Brazeau dam
The Brazeau energy plant is situated about 200 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
Fracking exercise is at the moment not permitted inside three kilometres of the facility plant. However, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) does enable fracking between three and 5 kilometres in sure cases primarily based on a number of components, reminiscent of a overview of the danger, the potential for seismic occasions and mitigation measures.
Westbrick Energy Ltd. and Ridgeback Resources Inc. each need to frack within the three-to-five-kilometre zone. A ten-day listening to is scheduled for the primary half of 2023.
A 2016 technical report by a government committee said that there was “unacceptable threat related to hydro-fracture induced seismicity to the … Brazeau infrastructure throughout the five-kilometre buffer zone.”
However, a followup report in 2021 said that “an motion to scale back the danger is clearly needed if the danger is unacceptable, which seems not to be the case.”
TransAlta needs the court docket to intervene and prohibit fracking near the dam, amongst different security measures.
“As we prioritize the security of all our services, TransAlta is taking this prudent step to affirm the government’s contractual obligations to not prohibit or intervene with the secure operation of the ability,” the corporate stated in an e mail.
In its assertion of defence filed in September, the provincial government argues that the court docket ought to dismiss the case, partially to keep away from interfering with the AER’s jurisdiction because the regulator of all oil and fuel operations within the province.
In court docket paperwork, government attorneys state that “there may be appreciable debate amongst stakeholders concerning the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing within the five-kilometre space,” together with some who say any fracking is “harmful,” whereas others say fracking “presents zero, or shut to zero, threat if carried out inside particular shallow geological formations.”
The government didn’t present remark to CBC News. Westbrick Energy and Ridgeback Resources didn’t reply to interview requests.
Ongoing scientific analysis
There is little question within the scientific neighborhood that fracking may cause earthquakes, however researchers aren’t ready to precisely predict when a big earthquake will happen.
Statistics present that solely a small quantity of fracking exercise will truly trigger a noticeable earthquake, so researchers are specializing in making an attempt to work out why, stated Honn Kao, a senior seismology analysis scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada.
Without realizing whether or not or not an earthquake will happen, consultants will as an alternative create a threat model to give you the likelihood.
“Then the talk begins. The likelihood may be very very similar to the climate, proper? You say there’s a 50 per cent likelihood of rain. What do you imply? For an operator and the local people, if an earthquake occurs, it is 100 per cent. If an earthquake would not occur, it is zero,” Kao stated in an interview.
“But from a scientific standpoint, we are saying, nicely, there’s a 50 per cent likelihood. That truly is topic to interpretation, and I believe a large amount of debate comes from there.”
Induced earthquakes are felt strongest on the oil nicely drilling website after which slowly diminish in power the additional the space away.
The earthquakes are attributable to a buildup of stress on tectonic plates from fracking exercise, though scientists cannot measure how a lot tectonic vitality has collected and the way shut the plates are to failure. Fracking additionally acts like a set off for the earthquake.
At some level, regulators have to decide about security requirements and resolve their stage of threat tolerance, however others in the neighborhood will disagree. This distinction of opinion is central to the court docket motion taken by TransAlta about how shut fracking can happen to its hydro dam.
“How far would you like to arrange that unique zone? That truly is topic to debate,” Kao stated. “How excessive or how low of a threat tolerance stage are you able to settle for?
“We know much more about injection-induced earthquakes over the previous decade. But actually, for my part, I believe we nonetheless have quite a bit to be taught,” he stated.
AER topic of separate court docket motion
In a separate case, TransAlta can also be taking court docket motion in opposition to the AER for approving an oil and fuel firm’s utility to frack between 5 and 10 kilometres of the dam “instantly,” which “disadvantaged TransAlta of the chance to submit an announcement of concern to the AER.”
The firm is asking the courts to enable it to handle its security considerations concerning the proposed fracking exercise to the regulator.
The AER stated it would not touch upon an lively authorized matter, nevertheless it did refer to details about its guidelines for fracking near the Brazeau dam. The regulator has 50 seismic monitoring techniques all through the province.
Some of the biggest earthquakes attributable to fracking in Western Canada embody a 4.5-magnitude occasion near Fort St. John in northeastern British Columbia. In the Fox Creek space of Alberta, there have been a pair of 4.4-magnitude earthquakes and a 4.8-magnitude occasion.
In the Brazeau dam space, an earthquake with a magnitude of greater than 4.0 occurred in 2019. The epicentre was about 75 kilometres south of the facility plant.
The variety of earthquakes has risen quickly in Texas, Oklahoma and different elements of the United States with oil and fuel manufacturing. As a end result, the variety of lawsuits in opposition to the trade has additionally elevated considerably.