New Douglas Channel geological studies near completion

Three studies of the geology of Douglas Channel are near completion and publication, according to Natural Resources Canada. That news comes as studies, released today, warn of a major megathrust earthquake on the fault west of Haida Gwaii.

Northwest Coast Energy News asked the Geological Survey of Canada if there were any recent updates available after the agency said that a survey had located a “possible fault” on Hawkesbury Island during studies for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.

“Devastating megathrust earthquake” a “substantial hazard” for Haida Gwaii, Canada-US study warns

Is Kitimat ready for a “big one?”

Natural Resources Canada responded with a statement: “NRCan continues to conduct research studies in the area, including study of possible faults. Three scientific expeditions have been completed on board Coast Guard research ships. The first two reports are in the final stages of editing, and will be published in the coming months. The third expedition was just completed; therefore the third report will be available later.”

The initial joint survey by the Geological Survey of Canada and Fisheries and Oceans in September 2012, found a tsunami hazard and a possible seismic fault in Douglas Channel near Kitimat.

Fault zone map Douglas Chanel
A 2012 map from the Geological Survey of Canada showing the line of a possible seismic fault on Douglas Channel (Geological Survey of Canada)

The follow up study by Fisheries and Oceans, released about three weeks after the Haida Gwaii earthquake, in November 2012,  identified two slope failure events on the southern end of Hawkesbury Island during the mid-Holecene period, between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. That study showed that the tsunami from the slope failure reaching Kitimat would have been about 60 centimetres or 23 inches. Hartley Bay would have been hit by a wave height of 7.5 metres or about 25 feet.

More recently there were slope failures nearer to Kitimat. The first slope failure occurred on October 17, 1974, triggering a 2.4 metre tsunami at low tide. Then on April 27, 1975 there was a second slope failure near low tide on the northeast slope of the Kitimat Arm that generated an 8.2 metre tsunami. The 1975 tsunami destroyed the Northland Navigation dock near Kitimat and damaged the Haisla First Nation docks at Kitamaat Village.

Thomas James, of the Geological Survey told Northwest Coast Energy news about the team’s finding on the Haida Gwaii earthquake: “The studies focused on the Haida Gwaii and Craig earthquakes which happened at the Pacific and North American plate boundary, west of Haida Gwaii, so east of Haida Gwaii there’s no comparable plate boundaries that gives rise of historic sieismisticity.”

As well as the fact that recent studies say the mainland margin coastal zone has had very little historical seismicity, it adds no currently active faults have been identified. A study ten years ago identified some very ancient faults which have not been active since the Eocene, about 33 to 56 million years ago.
GPS studies show that in northwestern British Columbia coastal block is moving northeast at the rate of just 5 millimetres a year.

Related links
Kitimat to issue tsunami hazard and evacuation map

Afterearthquake Kitimat must immediately upgrade emergency communications

The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

DFO study on ancient Douglas Chanel tsunamis show minimal impact on Kitimat, devastation at Hartley Bay

Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard, possible fault line on Douglas Channel

Scientists identify major Japanses style tsunami hazard for west coast

Long term sustainability of shale energy in doubt, scientists tell geology conference

Shale oil and gas may not be the economic “panacea” that some believe, a panel of scientists told a geology conference today.  New studies point  to higher than expected field decline rates and increasing costs to extract the energy, meaning the long-term sustainability of shale gas production is questionable.

The findings confirm what sources in the energy industry have been telling Northwest Coast Energy News for the past few months, that the output from hydraulic fracturing decreases much more quickly than conventional extraction.

The panel of three scientists released their findings at the annual convention of the Geological Society of America this morning in Boulder, Colorado.

The studies concentrate on the United States where fracking for “tight oil” and natural gas is more advanced than in Canada.

The panel says that while the use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for “tight oil” is an important contributor to Amercian energy supply, fracking will not result in long-term sustainable production or allow the U.S. to become a net oil exporter.

Charles A.S. Hall, professor emeritus at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, Syracuse, presented two studies: one of the global patterns of fossil-fuel production in the past decade, and the other of oil production patterns from the Bakken Field (the giant expanse of oil-bearing shale rock underneath North Dakota and Montana that is being produced using hydraulic fracturing).

According to a news release from the GSA, both studies show that despite a tripling of prices and of expenditures for oil exploration and development, the production of nearly all countries has been stagnant at best and more commonly is declining — and that prices do not allow for any growth in most economies.

“The many trends of declining EROIs suggest that depletion and increased exploitation rates are trumping new technological developments,” Hall said.

The second studies are from J. David Hughes, president of Vancouver-based Global Sustainability Research Inc. Hughes studied the Bakken Field and the Eagle Ford Field of Texas, which together comprise more than half of U.S. tight oil production. The results show that drilling must continue at high levels, to overcome field decline rates of 40 percent per year.

Drilling rates of more than 3,000 wells annually in the Eagle Ford, and more than 1,800 wells annually in the Bakken, are sufficient to offset field decline and grow production — for now. If drilling at these high rates is maintained, production will continue to grow in both fields for a few more years until field decline balances new production. At that point drilling rates will have to increase as “sweet spots” (relatively small high-productivity portions of the total play area) are exhausted and drilling moves into lower-productivity regions, in order to further grow or even maintain production.

The onset of production decline will likely begin before the end of the decade, Hughes said.

“These sweet spots yield the high early production observed in these plays, but the steep decline rates inevitably take their toll. ”

Arthur E. Berman, a geological consultant for Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc., of Sugar Land, Texas, deems the U.S. 10-year history of shale-gas extraction “a commercial failure. ” However, he says, this will not be the case forever. “Prices will increase to, at least, meet the marginal cost of production. More responsible companies will dominate and prosper as the U.S. gas market re-balances and weaker players disappear.”

Hughes sums up: “Tight oil is an important contributor to the U.S. energy supply, but its long-term sustainability is questionable. It should be not be viewed as a panacea for business as usual in future U.S. energy security planning.”

Scrutiny of Enbridge Northern Gateway plans: II Landslides

Energy Enviroment

598-bigslide.jpgThis photograph from the geomorphology report shows how bedrock spread lead to catastrophic landslides along a 2.5 kilometre scarp (photo lower centre to upper right) and a 1.3 km scarp (photo distance) on the ridge above Parrott Creek. The yellow dashed line delineates the landslides’ headscarp. The arrow shows the direction of movement.

A retired geomorphologist for the BC Forest Service, who lives in Smithers, says a break in the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, triggered by a landslide, is “inevitable” given the highly complex terrain that the pipeline will cross.

James Schwab bases his peer-reviewed paper  on his 30 years experience in northwestern British Columbia.

“The unstable mountainous  terrain across west-central BC is not a safe location for pipelines. Eventually a landslide will sever  a pipeline,” he says.  He calls for investigation of  a safer, alternative route for the pipeline.  

The report was funded by the Bulkley Valley Research Centre.  It examines  three areas, the Nechako Plateau, the Hazelton Mountains and the Kitimat Ranges.

Schwab’s report says the Nechako Plateau appears relatively benign, but, he says, large landslides have occurred in volcanic rock overlying other older volcanic and sedimentary rock.

Along the Morice River,  the report says sediments have historically experienced landslides. Road construction and wildfires have reactivated these landslides. The proposed pipeline corridor crosses an historic earth flow west of Owen Creek, moving sediment along Owen Creek and moving sediments  near Fenton Creek and Lamprey Creek

At  Gosnell Creek, Schwab says, shifting channels on active alluvial fans pose road maintenance challenges at present and, he says, pipelines will likely bring similar challenges crossing these fans. The report says the creek banks are unstable at Crystal Creek and Gosnell Creek pipeline crossing points.

The report says the volcanic bedrock of the Hazelton Mountains is “inherently unstable” and geological  surveys show there were many landslides in prehistoric times. Three more recent documented large landslides within the Bulkley Range of the Hazelton Mountains have severed the natural gas pipeline since its construction in the early 1970s; large landslides have also impacted forest roads and highways.

He says that gravity is deforming the slopes in the  volcanic bedrock found in the Kitnayakwa, Clore and Bernie watersheds and the report calls for a  thorough geotechnical investigation to determine the stability of the bedrock and hill slope in areas before the pipeline is built.  “Avoidance of these unstable hill slopes is generally the preferred engineering development option,” the report says.

The report examines where the pipeline corridor crosses through a mountainside to the southeast of the Clore Canyon.

The highly fractured bedrock in the canyon is undergoing active mass erosion. unstable rock reaches up to about 1200 m above sea level and extends around the mountain into an adjacent tributary valley. This bedrock along the north and west side of the mountain is extensively gullied and contains many landslide scarps and an actively moving landslide.

The active instability of the eastern mountain slope places major constraints on development, Schwab says.

Schwab says the Kitimat Ranges are characterized by steep narrow valleys, which create “colluvial-fluvial fans … at the base of most steep gully channels in the Hoult Creek and Upper Kitimat watershed.” The steep gullies extend from the mountains in to the valley or directly  into Hoult Creek or the Kitimat River.

Many of these high-energy systems  in the Kitimat Ranges experienced debris flows during extreme rainstorms in the fall of 1978 and the fall of 1992. Debris flows commonly occur under seemingly normal storm events during summer convective storms and fall frontal rainstorms.

Debris flows are powerful landslides that can damage or rupture pipelines, the report says.

Hunter Creek, a large active alluvial fan, has historically pushed the Kitimat River across the valley, Schwab’s report says.  In 1992, road and  levée  construction caused a catastrophic channel  change.

The Kitimat trough, on the road between Terrace and Kitimat, is actually a fjord uplifted by ancient geological forces.   The valley has deep deposits of sediments both from ocean and land, left by glaciers, which have produced landslides from prehistoric times to the present day.

Recent large flow slides occurred at Mink Creek (winter 1992-93) and Lakelse Lake in May and June 1962. A large submarine flow slide occurred in sensitive marine muds at the front of the fiord-head delta at Kitimat Arm in April 1975.

These recent landslides serve to show the continuing sensitivity of the glaciomarine sediments in the Kitimat Trough and the marine sediments on the fan-delta at the fiord-head of Kitimat Arm. Natural and human caused factors such as increases in surface load, removal of lateral support by stream bank undercutting or excavation, vibration by heavy equipment, earthquake shock, high water pressures and interruption of intertidal drainage can trigger these landslides. Thus, the potential exists for landslides to occur during pipeline construction and in the future.

This large swampy area  on Lakesle Lake is the location of the May 1962 flow slide. Highway 37 crosses the landslide depletion zone. (The highway was closed for several days after the 1962 slide.) The provincial park is in the middle left of this photo from the report.

Schwab says  the pipeline  will encounter the glacial sediments  during construction at Cecil Creek, Deception Creek, Wedeene River, Little Wedeene River, along the west side of Kitimat Arm and along Chist Creek. He says that even minor erosion along those creek banks can expose the glacial sediments, which are then displaced by as the sediments are exposed.
“Pipelines crossing glaciomarine sediments must therefore avoid areas that lie within potential flow slide depletion zones as landslides will break or disrupt pipeline service.”

The executive summary of the report concludes by saying.

Landslides travel long distances and damage linear infrastructure such as pipelines. Six large rock slides occurred in west central B.C. since 1978, five of these since 1999, and four since 2002. Three of the six rock slides severed the natural gas pipeline (Howson landslides in 1978 and 1999, and Zymoetz landslide in 2002). Damage to linear infrastructure commonly occurs in run out zones many kilometres from the initial landslide. This has occurred with recent landslides in west central B.C.; the longest traveled in excess of four kilometres along a slope of 9°. Therefore, the potential for damage to pipelines extends to unstable terrain and potential landslides that start well outside the construction corridor.

The Bulkley Valley  Research  Centre, based in Smithers, is a not-for-profit  organization that aims to improve the knowledge of resource sustainability by facilitating  what its website calls “credible research projects.”

Bulkley Valley Research Centre news release: Geomorphology report highlights pipeline concerns

James Schwab’s paper Hillslope and Fluvial Processes along the Proposed Pipeline Corridor (pdf)

This report was corrected on Oct. 25, changing the headline, correcting the main link to the Bulkley Valley Research Centre that was not visible due to a coding error and adding a link to the geomorphology report news release.

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