Hazard-Specific Vulnerability Mapping for Water Security in a Shale Gas Context

Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Diana M Allen, Shannon Holding and Zac McKoen, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Northeast British Columbia (NEBC) is estimated to hold large reserves of unconventional natural gas and has experienced rapid growth in shale gas development activities over recent decades. Shale gas development has the potential to impact the quality and quantity of surface and ground water. Robust policies and sound water management are required to protect water security in relation to the water-energy nexus surrounding shale gas development. In this study, hazard-specific vulnerability mapping was conducted across NEBC to identify areas most vulnerable to water quality and quantity deterioration due to shale gas development. Vulnerability represents the combination of a specific hazard threat and the susceptibility of the water system to that threat. Hazard threats (i.e. potential contamination sources and water abstraction) were mapped spatially across the region. The shallow aquifer susceptibility to contamination was characterised using the DRASTIC aquifer vulnerability approach, while the aquifer susceptibility to abstraction was mapped according to aquifer productivity. Surface water susceptibility to contamination was characterised on a watershed basis to describe the propensity for overland flow (i.e. contaminant transport), while watershed discharge estimates were used to assess surface water susceptibility to water abstractions. The spatial distribution of hazard threats and susceptibility were combined to form hazard-specific vulnerability maps for groundwater quality, groundwater quantity, surface water quality and surface water quantity. The vulnerability maps identify priority areas for further research, monitoring and policy development. Priority areas regarding water quality occur where hazard threat (contamination potential) coincide with high aquifer susceptibility or high overland flow potential. Priority areas regarding water quantity occur where demand is estimated to represent a significant proportion of estimated supply. The identification of priority areas allows for characterization of the vulnerability of water security in the region. This vulnerability mapping approach, using the hazard threat and susceptibility indicators, can be applied to other shale gas areas to assess vulnerability to shale gas activities and support water security.