Researchers expose environmental impact of oil and gas exploration on Arctic lakes

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Researchers expose environmental impact of oil and gas exploration on Arctic lakes

Published on November 08 2013


A couple of Brock researchers are part of a collaborative research team whose recent findings suggest that the legislated method for disposing of land-based drilling wastes associated with oil and gas exploration in Canada’s Arctic is no longer effective.

Their findings are based on the group’s latest research on the cumulative impact of climate warming and oil and gas exploratory activities during the 1970s and 80s on lake ecosystems in the Mackenzie River Delta region of the Northwest Territories.

“Lakes in the region are undergoing warming, they’re being impacted by permafrost thaw, and now on top of that, there’s also the impact of hydrocarbon exploration,” says Joshua Thienpont, a post-doctoral fellow in Brock’s Geography Department working under the supervision of associate professor Michael Pisaric.

Hydrocarbon exploration industries in Northern Canada dispose of their drilling wastes into pits called “drilling sumps.” These are Olympic pool-sized craters dug into the permafrost and filled with industrial wastes - primarily cuttings and drilling fluids.

“Only 30 or 40 years ago, it was assumed that these sumps were a permanent disposal mechanism - that this material would be locked in the permafrost forever,” Thienpont says. “But we now know the permafrost is not as permanent as we had originally thought.”

Based on the research, he also notes, “Sumps are probably not the perfect disposal method in regions of warm permafrost, which is not only likely to thaw, but already thawing.”

Drilling mud sump with a small lake in the background

Drilling mud sump with a small lake in the background