Unconventional Wastewater Management: A comparative review and analysis of hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices across four North American basins

Greg Goss, Professor, University of Alberta (2014-2015)

Unconventional Wastewater Management: A comparative review and analysis of hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices across four North American basins


Hydraulic fracturing has long been employed in the oil and gas industry. However, the advent of new horizontal drilling techniques unlocked vast shale gas and oil reserves across North America, virtually changing the industry overnight. Such a dramatic change in pace and scale of activity has led to a proliferation of stakeholder concerns, particularly around water usage, and a corresponding array of seemingly irreconcilable information. Within some areas, operators and regulators have become increasingly concerned with their social license to operate – i.e., the level of acceptance/approval by local communities and stakeholders. To address this ambiguity, there is a need for a comparative review of hydraulic fracturing practices and policies to demonstrate differences in factors that govern water use in the industry.


The research team conducted an extensive, multidisciplinary review of wastewater handling, treatment, reuse and disposal as they relate to hydraulic fracturing by comparing the practices, legislation and policies that have been implemented in various North American shale formations as well as use of freshwater and demand management. The objective of the review was to summarize and assess current knowledge regarding wastewater management and to identify critical gaps to be addressed by future research. This was accomplished using a combination of direct interviews with specific stakeholders to gather current practices for wastewater management, and through collaboration with regulators to assess current understanding and practices by jurisdiction. Emphasis was on formations with extensive experience in hydraulic fracturing wastewater handling and treatment (Montney, British Columbia; Duverney, Alberta; formations in Western Canada), as well as relatively undeveloped but strategically important reserves elsewhere in Canada (Horton Bluff, Nova Scotia; Frederick Brook, New Brunswick).

The approach and work plan was based on the three tasks:

  • Water treatment and disposal practices – the geocoded well database of Pennsylvania was reviewed and extended to include hydraulically-fractured wells in Canada
  • Risk management and social license (SLO) to operate – The extent to which SLO is an explicit concern across basins was examined, as well as efforts undertaken to secure, enhance or restore SLO, and evidence that these efforts have made a difference
  • Policy regimes and voids within and across jurisdictions – How treatment standards differ across basins, the primary influences on current standards and the correlation between complaints and treatment standards/policies were assessed, as well as the effect of regulatory standards on obtaining/maintaining SLO.


  • Development of a cohesive report on the potential strengths and weaknesses of the research approaches and policies


  • Knowledge generated will be used in the public/private sectors to inform research on potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water
  • Regulators, users and the general public will be provided with an understanding of the current knowledge around hydraulic fracturing and wastewater management

Research Team

  • Greg Goss, Professor, University of Alberta
  • Daniel Alessi, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta
  • Joel Gehman, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta
  • Diana M. Allen, Professor, Simon Fraser University
  • Dave Guichon, Project Manager, Alberta WaterSMART
  • Jason Brisbois, Managing Director, University of Alberta Water Initiative
  • Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Professor, University of Alberta


  • Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
  • Alberta WaterSMART
  • BC Oil and Gas Commission
  • New Brunswick Department of Environment & Local Government
  • Alberta Energy Regulator