Do fracking arrangements violate B.C. law? Environmental coalition gets day in court by Dan Fumano, March 16, 2014, The Province
A coalition of environmental groups goes to court Monday to challenge the Oil and Gas Commission’s “systemic practice” of handing out repeated short-term water approvals for use in gas extraction operations in B.C. A petition, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in November by the environmental law group Ecojustice on behalf of Sierra Club and Wilderness Committee, says the OGC is letting gas companies use billions of litres of water a year, for periods of up to five years, without obtaining a long-term water licence. They claim this practice is a violation of the Water Act.
Short-term approvals are not intended to be for a period of more than 24 months. But, by issuing several consecutive short-term approvals to the same company for the same lakes and rivers, the petitioners claim, B.C.’s oil and gas regulator allows companies to avoid properly obtaining long-term water licences. Eoin Madden of the Wilderness Committee said the issue boils down to accountability and democratic engagement. Long-term water licences are subject to a greater degree of public scrutiny and consultation. Often there will be public hearings involving other people who could be affected by the industry’s water withdrawals, Madden said, including farmers, municipal governments, and First Nations communities. By contrast, Maddensaud, the short-term approvals are “rubber-stamped.”
Morgan Blakley, one of the Ecojustice lawyers working on the case, said: “There’s more scrutiny and more of a process involved with getting a long-term licence.” An OGC spokesman said Friday: “We cannot comment directly on this case, as it is before the courts.” According to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission’s annual report, “In 2012, a total of 7,054,704 (cubic metres) of water was used for hydraulic fracturing,” or fracking. Seven billion litres of water is the rough equivalent of 2,800 Olympic swimming pools in a year. Monday’s court date comes less than a week after the introduction of the Water Sustainability Act, a major new piece of legislation intended to update and replace the 105-year-old Water Act.
But Ecojustice’s lawyers are concerned that the very practices they’re challenging could be enshrined in the new act, based on their early readings of the draft legislation. Blakley pointed to Section 10 of the proposed Water Sustainability Act and a new subsection that doesn’t appear in the existing Water Act. Ecojustice and their clients are concerned the new subsection would expressly allow the repeated issuing of consecutive short-term water approvals.
The Wilderness Committee’s Madden has travelled to northeastern B.C. to speak with people in some of the communities near fracking operations, and he said they are concerned and, in some cases, intimidated. Some have seen rivers and creeks “literally dry up,” he said. “It’s water that communities depend on,” said Madden. “If you’re a farmer in the Peace River District and you’ve just lost access to a creek or a river, it’s a big deal.” [Emphasis added]
Tough B.C. rules make fracking extremely safe by Rich Coleman, March 16, 2014, The Province
The claims and cautionary warnings in the op-ed on LNG and water use last week by Ben Parfitt and David Hughes are unfounded and inaccurate. British Columbia has been a leader in safe, responsible natural gas development for more than 50 years. Our experience has led to some of the world’s strictest rules for water use and protection – rules that will apply to LNG development. In B.C., all wells are lined with cement that creates a barrier between extraction procedures and the environment. This protective layer must extend the entire length of the well or to a minimum depth of 600 metres. In addition, an operator is not able to drill within 200 metres of a domestic water well. As a result, hydraulic fracturing takes place far below the location of potable water sources and domestic water wells. Typically, these water sources are between 18 and 150 metres below the surface. Measures like these contribute to B.C. never having experienced groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
Spill-response measures are also in place with strict protocols for cleanup and restoration. These are enforced by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Environment. Water use accounts for a small fraction of the actual run-off in our natural gas basins – in most cases less than 0.3 per cent of total runoff. In the Fort Nelson River basin, for instance, a total of 0.008 per cent of annual run-off was withdrawn between January and June 2012.
The water used by industry is carefully monitored by the some of the industry’s most knowledgeable geologists, hydrologists and engineers with the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. They apply scientific and technical rigour to ensure we continue to responsibly manage our water resources.
Water flows will be maintained. Actions are swift and immediate, and any claims to the contrary are false. The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission can and has stopped operations to avoid drought conditions in the past. Water levels will always be preserved to protect British Columbians and our environment. As well, we have a proposed a new Water Sustainability Act to ensure the best standards of environmental protection are in place now and in the future. Water will continue to be protected as we develop a new LNG industry to create greater financial security and prosperity for all British Columbians. Rich Coleman is B.C.’s minister of natural gas development. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
A proportion (25% to 100%) of the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not recovered, and consequently this water is lost permanently to re-use, which differs from some other water uses in which water can be recovered and processed for re-use. [Emphasis added]