Sustainable exploration and production of oil and natural gas involves a commitment to the environment.
Respecting the Environment
Exploring and producing oil and natural gas in Ontario is a process regulated by the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources through the Ontario Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act. There is an inherent responsibility for the protection of the environment and water resources. Individual permits, depending on a well’s specific location, are required to drill oil and natural gas wells. The Ontario industry is committed to continuing planning, drilling and operating its wells in compliance with the regulations that govern oil and natural gas development as it has in safely harvesting energy for 156 years.
Protecting the environment begins with constructing roads and grading the drill pad location through the use of controls to prevent soil erosion and sedimentation. Roads are often improved prior to starting the drilling process to accommodate additional truck traffic with culverts placed along road berms to reduce sedimentation. Filter socks and erosion control blankets are installed and maintained at the pad throughout the drilling process to prevent stormwater runoff. Finally, a high-density plastic liner is placed under the entire drill pad, and then covered with gravel to fully contain any potential spills during drilling and completion.
The drilling process involves driving several increasingly smaller diameter steel pipes, called casing strings, into the wellbore, with the injection of cement into the pipe and up the sides of the wellbore at the completion of each casing string. This isolates the wellbore from the earth with two durable materials – steel and cement –and protects groundwater aquifers. Each successive steel casing string is cemented into place as the well is drilled, extending to the end of the horizontal portion of the wellbore that will produce natural gas. The casing and cementing process is tested as the well is drilled and devices called centralizers keep the pipe and cement centered in the middle of the wellbore. These steel and cement liners ensure the integrity of the well, and remain in place throughout the well’s years of production.
Material called drilling mud, which is also used to drill drinking water wells, is used to lubricate the drill bit and to aid in bringing rock cuttings to surface.
The cuttings are then processed through a shaker and allowed to settle, with the rock fragments stored at the drilling location for transportation to a permitted landfill. Drilling mud is processed in an on-site treatment facility and recycled for continued use in the drilling process.
Whenever you penetrate the earth’s surface and create a well bore there is some risk to the process. However, proper regulations and oversight by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources helps to mitigate these risks.
Ontario has been safely harvesting oil for 156 years and natural gas for 100 years. In addition to the Ontario Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act Regulation 245/97 and Provincial Operating Standards ensure that oil and natural gas exploration and production adheres to the highest standards of best practices. Proper construction includes several strings of steel conductor casing, each properly cemented into place to protect groundwater resources. Proper steel casing and cement also ensures that oil and natural gas being produced stays within the well bore and does not migrate elsewhere.
Well Control and Blowout Prevention
An operator of a well that is being drilled, tested, completed, stimulated, serviced, overhauled or worked over shall provide casing and blowout prevention equipment and maintain it in such condition that any oil, gas or water encountered can be effectively controlled.
The operator shall ensure that blowout prevention equipment is adequate, having regard to the depth to which the well will be drilled, the expected pressure and the need, in case of blowout, for shutoff of the open hole or around any equipment used in the well.
Water Covered Areas
In this section, “well” means a well in a water-covered area. A well licence shall not be issued to a person who does not furnish proof that the person has liability insurance of at least $5,000,000 per occurrence that provides compensation for all damage caused by drilling, pipeline construction, production, servicing or abandonment operations or caused by any vessel, craft or barge used to transport people or materials to the site of the drilling, pipeline construction or production operations.
Plugging Dry or Unused Wells
The operator of a dry oil or gas well or a well that is no longer used shall plug it as soon as practical and, in any case, within 12 months after it is determined to be dry or is taken out of use.
Protection of Designated Gas Storage Area
No person shall complete, service or otherwise perform work of any kind on a well within 1.6 kilometres of a gas storage area designated by the Ontario Energy Board pursuant to the Ontario Energy Board Act if the performance of such work will or is likely to fracture the storage reservoir situated within the designated area or to result in communication with it.