Stop wholesale giveaway of water to shale gas industry or face more legal challenges, Native band in northeast B.C. pushes for water licensing reform

Fracking water licence process angers B.C. First Nation by CBC News, November 14, 2012
The Fort Nelson First Nation says the wholesale giveaway of water to the shale gas industry must stop and is calling for five changes to how water licenses are studied and issued. “We want to know and track the changes that we see, because at this point we have anecdotal evidence from our land users, and our elders and our trappers,” said Lana Lowe, the band’s lands director. “But government and science don’t listen to us because we don’t have the rigorous methods that they require to make a decision.” The band is prepared take legal action if its demands aren’t met, said Fort Nelson First Nation chief Sharleen Wildeman. “[Water] is the life-blood of our community,” Wildeman said. “Our community has always used rivers to travel, and hunt and fish and gather food. And now it’s coming to a time where the alarm bells are going off.”

[Refer also to: A toxic practice, a poisonous relationship: what’s the connection between water for fracking and SNC-Lavalin’s Chair Gwyn Morgan, past CEO of Encana?

Designed to Fail: Why Regulatory Agencies Don’t Work 

Fort Nelson First Nation (Treaty 8) Information Center Deep Information Centre Deep Shale Fracking Shale in Northeast BC by BC Tap Water Alliance Stop Fracking BC, November 15, 2012

Stop wholesale giveaway of water to shale gas industry or face more legal challenges by Canada Newswire, November 13, 2012, Digital Journal
“We are extremely concerned about a massive giveaway of water from our rivers and lakes, without any credible process identifying what the long-term impacts will be on our land, our families and on our community” said Fort Nelson First Nation Chief, Sharleen Wildeman. … There are 20 long-term water licence applications before the province that would permit natural gas companies to withdraw tens of billions of litres of water annually from rivers and lakes in Fort Nelson First Nation territory. The water will be permanently withdrawn and mixed with highly toxic chemicals for shale gas extraction. Ultimately the majority of the water will be disposed of via “deep oilfield injection”.

“First Nations are increasingly alarmed that the Clark government and industry are making decision after decision with very real long-term impacts on our land and our communities in a regulatory and scientific vacuum. It is offensive to our rights as First Nations and it demonstrates a total disregard to the single most important resource that we all share” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Water is our most precious natural resource. We have a duty to our communities and to future generations to ensure that our waters will sustain and nourish them.”

In a ground-breaking decision by BC’s Environmental Appeal Board last week, the Fort Nelson First Nation won the right under the provincial Water Act to appeal a provincial government decision awarding Nexen Inc. rights to withdraw 2 billion litres of water per year out of North Tsea Lakes. The province opposed the Nation’s legal right to do so. “We will continue to fight all water licence decisions until the Province comes to the table with local and First Nations communities to plan how we will address this new and unprecedented rush for water in our land” Chief Wildeman said. The Fort Nelson First Nation has actively sought to work cooperatively with natural gas companies, the Oil and Gas Commission and the BC government to address oil and gas activities in its territory, and accepts that some level of industry activity will occur.

However, the Nation is demanding several reforms.
•    Before water licences are issued, full regional baseline studies must be completed.
•    Gas companies and the provincial government must submit multi-year pre-development plans. The plans would identify all proposed water sources, gas-well sites and other proposed infrastructure prior to any development permits being applied for.
•    A mutually agreed, cumulative effects and environmental assessment processes must be in place to ensure that gas industry water withdrawals are capped at an ecologically acceptable level.
•    Culturally significant land and water resources must be protected and made off-limits to industry activities.
•    Lastly, industry water withdrawals and associated gas extraction activities must be subject to rigorous monitoring and enforcement efforts by an independent body.

“Failure to embrace these fundamental reforms will lead to increasing yet avoidable conflict,” Chief Wildeman said. “It is time for the province and the industry to address our longstanding concerns.”

[Refer also to: AEA: Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe ”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]

The National Energy Board’s 2009 Primer for Understanding Canadian Shale Gas – Energy Briefing Note 
“Flow-back water is infrequently reused in other fracs because of the potential for corrosion or scaling, where the dissolved salts may precipitate out of the water and clog parts of the well or the formation.”

“Drilling and hydraulically fracturing wells can be water-intensive procedures; however, there is very limited Canadian experience from which to estimate potential environmental impacts.” ]

Native band in northeast B.C. pushes for water licensing reform by Mark Hume, November 13, 2012, The Globe and Mail
“All of a sudden we’re having trouble catching fish … Our rivers are getting harder to navigate … it’s almost like somebody drilled a hole in the bottom of the bathtub,” Mr. Loe said in Vancouver at a news conference to express aboriginal concerns about increasing water extraction by industry. Sharleen Wildeman, chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation, said her band has grown alarmed at the growing needs of the gas industry, which draws water from streams, lakes and rivers. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals in a slurry that is injected deep under ground. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, breaks up shale structures and releases gas deposits. Ms. Wildeman, whose 800-member band is located near the booming Horn River gas fields, said industry in that area has 20 long-term water licence applications before the B.C. government. If those licences are approved, she said, it would authorize industry to withdraw “tens of billions of litres of water annually” for up to 40 years, for use in fracking operations. “We are extremely concerned about a massive giveaway of water from our rivers and lakes, without any credible process identifying what the long-term impacts will be,” she said.

Ms. Wildeman is upset with a government consultation process “that has stalled,” and she said the band is demanding five conditions be met before any new water licences are approved. She said the band wants baseline environmental studies done before licences are issued; multi-year development plans filed in advance to identify proposed water sources, gas-well sites, roads and camps; environmental plans that cap water withdrawals at ecologically acceptable levels; protection of culturally significant land and water resources, and an agreement that environmental impact monitoring and enforcement will be done by an independent body. “Failure to embrace these fundamental reforms will lead to increasing yet avoidable conflict,” Ms. Wildeman said.

Last June, the Fort Nelson First Nation signed a gas consultation agreement with the B.C. government, but Kathi Dickie, a band councillor, said that deal has not come in to practice yet. Meanwhile, she said, industry is forging ahead with development in the region, and water licences that could be in place for decades are awaiting government approval. “We feel we’ve been pushed into a corner,” Ms. Dickie said.

She said the band called the news conference in the hopes of drawing attention to an issue that has made her community increasingly frustrated, but which has not got much attention in urban centres. “We need your help,” she said, addressing her comments to the general public. “We need people to pressure the government.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said provincial and national native organizations support the band’s call for greater restrictions on water licences. “We’ll do whatever it takes to stop this travesty,” he said of the industry demands for water.

Mike Forgo, vice-president of stakeholder relations for Encana Corp., said his company is applying for one long-term licence in the area and would like to see the band and the government work things out. “Certainly we’d like to see a better relationship between the Fort Nelson First Nation and the Crown,” he said, adding he didn’t know what efforts the government has made in consulting with the band. Brennan Clarke, a spokesman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, said in an e-mail the government is in the process of negotiating an agreement with the band that would deal with long-term water licences and other issues. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement soon,” he said, giving assurances the government is properly regulating the use of water. “All water licence applications are subjected to a thorough technical and scientific review by ministry staff and other relevant government agencies to ensure sound decisions.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: Fort Nelson First Nation to Discuss Massive Shale Gas Water Licenses Nov. 13 in Vancouver ]

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