The Smell of Money: British Columbia’s Gas Rush

The Smell of Money: British Columbia’s Gas Rush by Shefa Siegel, March 13, 2004, CorpWatch
By slashing the enforcement capacity of environmental agencies in half, government has swiftly transformed the Peace Region into a who’s-who of the fossil fuel industry, operating with few regulatory obstructions in a manner decidedly reminiscent of third-world industrial development. “Industry just does whatever it wants,” says Stacey Lajeunesse, who is board director for the Peace Country Environmental Protection Association, a citizens group founded in 1994. “Industry has the money to convince people that there isn’t a problem, and public health is a low priority for the provincial government. There’s nobody out in the backcountry to watchdog this stuff.” … But the convenience of drilling next to people’s homes, where access to roads, power, and water reduces start-up costs, has companies sinking wells so close to residences the noise of compressors and smell of flared gas are now constant companions to daily life. Although industry and government both talk about new technologies for gas exploration that have minimized the potential of disaster, people remain at risk from both long-term low-level and catastrophic exposure from leaks, explosions, and routine flaring. … The story is not easy to report. In similar situations, when whistleblowers start talking to journalists or environmentalists about compensation for health and property damage, companies have been quick to arrive on the scene offering cash settlements in exchange for non-disclosure agreements. Or, somebody who refuses to sign a non-disclosure agreement may find themselves promptly deserted by once-friendly neighbors. They then watch as the government plucks away at disquiet by hiring distressed residents in order to quench their outrage, and is finally intimidated by companies with threats of expensive legal action. … One frustrated resident told me, “Look, I want to talk to you, but I’ve been shouting about this for five years, and no good has come of it. I can’t afford to pay a lawyer if it comes to that. I just want to sell my land and get my family out of here.” … This is not only a story about the ecological consequences of a natural gas boom: it is also about a human rights failure that has people feeling violated, afraid, defenseless, and humiliated. … “We’ve become a very submissive society where companies get to police themselves….”

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