It's finally back to business as usual for natural gas producers in northeast British Columbia after almost six full months of water use restrictions.
The BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) announced that water withdrawal suspensions for the region have been brought to an end, again allowing companies to access their customary sources of water used for practices ranging from building ice roads to hydraulic fracturing.
"This was due the development of a strong summer drought that continued into late fall," OGC hydrologist Allan Chapman said of the water withdrawal suspensions that began on Aug. 2, which included all waterways in northeast B.C. apart from some larger bodies along the lines of the Peace and Fort Nelson Rivers and the Williston Reservoir.
Chapman explained that the Commission kept a careful eye on weather conditions and water levels throughout the following weeks.
"Rain occurred in late October and early November and river levels improved," he said.
Consequently, the OGC lifted water withdrawal suspensions for the Peace River watershed on Nov. 14.
"For more northern areas – the Fort Nelson and Liard River drainages – we partially ended the suspension, but kept a requirement for operators to provide field-based measurements of river flow to support an application to withdraw water," Chapman continued.
"This was because of a lesser amount of regional stream flow data in that area to provide an understanding of what the general flow conditions were, as well as indications from a couple of gauges that low flows were persisting.
"We continued to monitor river conditions."
Periods of warm weather in December and January caused sufficient snowmelt for river levels to rise significantly.
In fact, data collected by the Water Survey of Canada had shown that northeast B.C. rivers were at levels ranging from 200 per cent to over 500 per cent of their normal levels for the middle of January.
"Given these flow conditions," said Chapman, "we ended the partial suspension that still remained and returned to a 'normal operating practice' with respect to our short-term water application process.
"For industry, it means a return to normal practice."
Chapman explained that the OGC tried hard to help natural gas producers access water required for their operations between the beginning of August and the end of October, subsequently working with producers to evaluate river flow information to determine if and when the water withdrawal suspension could come to an end.
"I believe oil and gas operators will learn from the 2012 drought and water suspension and will bring into practice measures to ensure continuity of water supply and water conservation," said Chapman.
Chapman is anticipating a better summer in 2013 as well.
"Although we're only halfway through the winter, things are off to a good start in the northeast with respect to water supply (for the) next year," he said
"Mountain snowpacks are near normal, and the low elevation and valley bottom snowpack are well above normal. Should these conditions persist through to April, groundwater recharge and river flows will likely be good."