Risk and resilience in the shale gas context: a nexus perspective
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
The accelerated exploration for and development of unconventional gas plays around the world has raised public concern about potential risks to human health and the environment. In this study, a risk assessment framework specific to shale gas development is proposed. The framework aims to quantify and/or qualify both risk and resilience within a water-energy nexus context, using a comprehensive approach that considers environment, health and policy. The risk assessment framework is intended to be flexible so that it can be used in different regions, but will be tested in North East British Columbia, Canada where shale gas development is rapidly expanding. The main components of risk include hazards, susceptibility and potential consequences, which will be evaluated in space and time using ArcGIS software. The hazards are associated with all phases of shale gas development and include: water, air, and soil contamination; water use (surface and groundwater), and land use disturbance, and their assessment will take into account where they may occur, their frequency, duration and magnitude. Hazard-specific susceptibility maps will be generated based on the physical characteristics of the environment (e.g. soil, geology, hydrology, topography) as well as water source information (e.g. well locations), community footprints, etc. When combined with an evaluation of potential consequences, the resulting set of spatial risk maps can then be used for water resource management, land use planning, and industry permitting. Resilience, which buffers risk, here considers the existing regulatory framework and whether or not existing regulations can mitigate risk by reducing the hazard potential or consequences. The study considers how regulations may fully, partially, or inadequately mitigate the consequences of a given hazard. If development is to continue at its current pace in North East BC, it is imperative that decision-makers recognize the changing risk and resilience profiles and respond with appropriate policy. A critical component of the study comprises a gap analysis of current regulation and a possible path forward.