CAGC represents the business interests of the seismic industry within Canada – cagc.ca. This column represents the author’s perspective on the seismic business.
This column represents the authors’ perspectives on the seismic business. There have been important updates to the Alberta Exploration Regulation and the associated Exploration Directive that will allow better subsurface imaging on most new seismic acquisition programs and repeat 4D projects. The major change is described ‘briefly’ in the fourth last paragraph of this article.
This Exploration Directive update is significant because it is the first time since 2009 that any of the 26 Directives have been reviewed, stakeholders engaged, and the Section rewritten and ultimately approved. The industry had been working since 2010 on numerous Directive improvements and finally, in April 2022, changes to 13 of the 26 Directives finally came into effect.
So why did it take twelve years to update any Directive? Frankly, best intentions and planning do not always translate into reality. We also had to contend with the Alberta 2019 election (closes window late 2018 until late 2019) and of course delays caused by COVID-19. The progress looked like a saw blade tipped slightly upwards. Some ups, some downs.
Since the 1959 Exploration Regulation (25/59), the major geophysical regulation updates were in 1978, 1990, 1998, 2006, and now 2022. In 2006, specific components of the 1998 Exploration Regulation (214/98) were extracted and placed into 26 individual Directives to accompany the 2006 Regulation. Regulations are reviewed every ten years and require An Order in Council to change or extend them. Thus, Regulations are difficult to change. Directives, on the other hand, can be revised and approved by a Deputy Minister or a designate. The intent in 2006 was to review the Directives frequently and make changes to address emerging technologies, best practices, and stakeholder concerns.
It is important to consider how many technical equipment advances have been made since the Directives were created in 2006. At the time, it was generally deemed to be too expensive, difficult, and environmentally impactful to record a 3D in the Oil Sands with a cable-equipped crew. Now, much of the work is in the Oil Sands, but with the ongoing infrastructure development came the problem of placing seismic sources in proximity to: buildings, water wells, piezometers, and observation wells. That was not anticipated in 2006. And thus, that was one of the Directives that required urgent review and change.
There are many regulations with which the geophysical industry has to comply. The non seismic specific regulations, to name a few (federal and provincial), would include: Migratory Bird Convention Act, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Federal and Provincial Transportation and Explosives, Occupational Heath and Safety, The Water Act, The Public Lands Act, …
The more direct Alberta regulation framework includes: The Mines and Minerals Act, The Exploration Regulation, the Directive, and the Master Schedule of Standards and Conditions (includes some mandatory and optional conditions), and ultimately the project geophysical approval.
The most recent update to the Alberta Exploration Regulation (284/2006), recommended by the Minister of Environment and Parks and was signed off by the Alberta Lieutenant Governor, was in December of 2020. This update was necessary to drive the way to the Directive changes. The link below details the changes to the Exploration Regulation.
One of the main changes was repealing the existing separate Directives and incorporating them into the Exploration Directive with 24 sections. The Exploration Directive was approved in April 2022 and can be located here:
The former Directive ED2006-15, Distance Requirements, is now Section 15 of the Exploration Directive. The Directive numbering is consistent to Section 15, then the numbering changes because two of the Directives were dropped (16 and 23).
Of course, any Directive change has to comply with the current Act and the Regulation. In most cases, the overarching Mines and Minerals Act has to be modified first, then the Exploration Regulation, and finally the Directive. That is part of the reason why just 13 of the Directives were changed, as several proposed Section updates are not yet aligned with the Mines and Minerals Act.
So, why did it take twelve years to update any Directive?
In 2009, through the steering committee and a joint application by the CAGC and the CAPP Geophysical Committee, 5 significant changes were made to 3 of the Directives. The process worked exactly as planned. By 2010, there were 2 other proposed Directive updates with near-final drafts, another Directive was written, and the Geophysical Field Report (GFR) document was rewritten. Then the Exploration Section Head, who had been working geophysical since the ’70s, retired. His replacement was unable to navigate the government’s process and, despite all efforts, not much transpired for the next several years. Geophysical falls under the purview of the Minister of Environment and Parks. At the time, geophysical was under Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), which was both our regulator and policymaker. Then in 2013, the government introduced the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA), which changed things considerably. Now we had the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) as our regulator and Environment and Parks (AEP) as our policy group. The AEP had the authority, but not much expertise. AEP would suggest that AER needs to engage and do the subject matter expert review and then AEP would look at it. AER was not sure they could commit to that work without consent from a higher government authority. Essentially, we were stymied by Newton’s First Law of Motion, “An object at rest will remain at rest …”. It really took the effort of many to overcome the status quo. We met with the Associate Minister of Red Tape, trying that angle, but that did not work. Eventually, it was the November 2019 meeting with the Minister of Environment and Parks, Hon. Jason Nixon, that kick-started the process.
And so today, we are reporting on this tremendous success. Finally, after twelve long years, changes to the Exploration Directive. So, what is the most important technological advancement within the Exploration Directive?
Before you go further, it is important to be absolutely clear. This update will allow you, with consent, to get closer to structures with energy sources. You will be in compliance; you will still liable for any damages.
Section 15 of the Exploration Directive deals with the distance requirements from sources to specified structures. For most structures, the nearest allowable distance was based on a minimum charge size of 2 kg, although now most of our explosive charges are much smaller. With consent, the closest you could get to certain structures (residence, residential water wells, observation wells, and piezometers) with any charge less than 2 kg was 64 m, which is a surface gap of 128 m. If there is another structure within that 128 m diameter that could additionally increase the gap. Generally, data gaps degrade the subsurface imaging, particularly the near-surface. There is now a table based on Scaled Distances that, with consent, will allow you as close as 16 m to a residence or residential water well with a 0.125 kg charge or 8 m with 0.125 kg from a company-owned observation well or piezometer. That means on existing 4D programs you can potentially insert source points where you could not before. With new programs, you may have less skidding and offsetting of source points and no longer have to cut as many stub lines for infill stations. There is also the option with lower vibrator fundamental force to approach closer than previously allowed. This update will help image shallow targets, and marker horizons, and potentially identify drilling geohazards. There was a great deal of work done to advance the Alberta Distance Requirements and, in fact, this model is probably best in class. In the absence of regulation in other parts of the world, the Alberta model could be safely adapted with testing and consideration of structures. Currently, this regulation is specific to Alberta, and as always, some modicum of due diligence is expected. To assist you with the process, the CAGC has cached a wealth of information on setback distances and how the process works on their website. The website is www.cagc.ca Once at the site, use the search function and enter “seismic setbacks” (without the quotes). There are 8 numbered sequential sections, including the technical presentations given to subject matter experts. There is a READ ME document in Section 1 to help you navigate the process. If you review the materials, you should learn what you, or your contractors, need to know.
Here is a link to the previous Exploration Directive ED2006-15 so you can compare where we were to where we are now. You may note the link below suggests the Directive was updated in 2013 but that was part of REDA and just administrative contact details that changed.
Just a reminder with any 4D programs, inserting new source points will require Program Tags (formerly called Permit Tags) at the new explosive source locations. This was another change within the Exploration Directive, while Program Tags are required at new explosive source points (4D’s no longer need new tags each time the hole is drilled), programs with vibroseis source points will only require tags at the beginning and ends of lines and at major intersections.
A future article will address: the engagement/consultation process, details of the other 12 updates, outstanding issues, and the next steps in the process.