PROVINCIAL government geologists have confirmed Manitoba has shale gas worth exploring, the kind of gas that's caused a continent-wide controversy over fracking.

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PROVINCIAL government geologists have confirmed Manitoba has shale gas worth exploring, the kind of gas that's caused a continent-wide controversy over fracking.

But it might be a decade before Manitoba's gas catches the interest of energy companies looking for their next drilling targets.

"We do have gas in our shale," said Michelle Nicolas, a geologist with the province's Energy and Mining Department. "Whether it's economical at this point, we don't know. I suspect the technology isn't there quite yet."

Nicolas and fellow geologist Jim Baburak are four years into a study of the province's shale-gas potential. The study was recently renewed until 2014 and bolstered by the addition of a graduate student.

The geologists have spent several years taking samples and found there are two late Cretaceous formations worth further exploration in the southwestern corner of the province. The target region runs from the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to Treherne, including the Manitoba Escarpment, Swan Valley, the Porcupine Hills and around Riding Mountain.

There's already a burgeoning oil industry in the region.

The province's geologists began their investigation after natural gas companies inquired about looking for new shale-gas prospects. There is no private exploratory drilling going on yet in Manitoba.

Peter Howard, president of the Canadian Energy Research Institute, said Manitoba's gas might soon be appealing for energy developers, though.

Manitoba's wells would be easy to access and closer to pipelines and markets than, for example, the already booming gas resource in remote northeastern British Columbia.

Howard guessed energy companies will start showing an interest in Manitoba's gas within 10 years.

The research institute is funded in part by the petroleum industry as well as the federal and Alberta governments.

Shale gas, and the relatively new hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract it, have come under increased scrutiny following a series of small earthquakes in Ohio over Christmas. Experts believe the practice of disposing of the fracking waste water by injecting it back underground contributed to the quakes.

There are significant shale gas operations in Saskatchewan and even more in Alberta.

If the shale formation in the Prairies is a bowl, Nicolas says Manitoba is on the lip of the basin. "Nobody knows if we have what it takes yet," she said. "We're still looking at that."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca