Development of a Water Safety Framework for Watershed and Water Demand Governance and Management Approaches Related to Hydraulic Fracturing

CWRS has been awarded a one year project funded by the CWN to explore water demand and watershed governance and management approaches related to hydraulic fracturing activities.  

The energy sector is increasingly looking toward hydraulic fracturing for resource extraction to meet future energy needs. As an emerging technology, greater understanding is required to bridge the knowledge gap between decision-makers, researchers, neighbouring communities and the general public. The research team will integrate leading international research into a Water Safety Framework for Fracking to address knowledge gaps within watershed and water use governance and demand management approaches.

The water needs for fracking are very large (e.g., 1 to 8 million gallons per well). Fracking wells are sunk in the vicinity of 10,000 ft into the geophysical terrain. The chemicals used (ethylene glycol, mercury, lead, ammonium persulfate, etc.) are substantial in both quantity and purpose (e.g. biocide, breaker, clay stability, corrosion inhibiter, cross linker, friction reducer, gelling agent, iron control, non-emulsifier, pH adjusting agent, and surfactant).  There have been suggestions that a relatively low percentage of recovered fracking fluid recovered results in large volumes of waste fluid being left in the ground.  As well, for some operating scenarios the recovered fracking fluid, after being brought to the surface, is left to evaporate from retention ponds. All of these are important elements in this challenging and dynamic field, but they also strongly influence the governance requirements and the concerns of neighbouring communities. 

The current approach has been largely one of a pattern of confrontation – hence, a risk-analytic approach, which informs the public of choices and governance models, will have significant and real value, providing a logical structure of issues, potential resolutions thereof, and knowledge gaps.


The research team will integrate leading international research from relevant disciplines to meet the following four objectives:

1. Summarize current research approaches and knowledge relevant to the issue area

2. Identify key knowledge gaps in the issue area that are clearly articulated as priorities for decision makers

3. Present the range of practical research approaches that could be used to address these priority knowledge gaps

4. Discuss the potential strengths and weaknesses of the research approaches identified for informing decision-making knowledge gaps in the Canadian context

The research will involves three main activities: a literature review, a state-of-science workshop in Boulder Colorado, and a First Nations Community Workshop in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.  The major project outcome will be the development of a water safety framework for hydraulic fracturing, which is a risk management approach, similar to a drinking water safety plan.  The water safety framework will encompass six topics, and highlight specific research approaches to address research gaps within each topic.  Student papers will be developed as outcomes of the three project activities on each of these topics: 

  • Water use and demand management
  • Wastewater treatment and handling approaches
  • Impacts to drinking water quality – groundwater and surface water
  • Impact to ecosystem services (with respect to water)
  • Water conflict and negotiation strategies and barriers to engagement
  • Governance approaches to watersheds.  

The project team consists of 4 core researchers from the Dalhousie, the University of Guelph, the University of British Columbia and the University of Winnipeg, 1 collaborator from the University of Colorado Boulder, 8 HQP, 2 First Nations Partners, and 9 members of a Project Advisory Panel who will ensure that final reporting is at an appropriate level for Canadian decision-makers.