The B.C. Environmental Appeal Board has ruled the province failed to properly consult the Fort Nelson First Nations and employ adequate scientific modelling when it approved a long-term water withdrawal licence for Nexen Inc., a company with fracked gas operations in the Horn River Basin.
The board ordered the cancellation of the water licence, effectively immediately. The permit granted Nexen permission to withdraw up to 2.5 million cubic metres of water annually from North Tsea Lake, located within traditional Fort Nelson First Nation territory, until 2017.
The First Nation considers the ruling a significant victory over both Nexen and the B.C. government.
“Granting this licence was a major mistake by the province,” Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan said, adding “our members have always used the Tsea Lake area in our territory to hunt, trap, and live on the land."
Logan said Nexen withdrew water from Tsea Lake at ecologically damaging times.
“The company pumped water out of the lake, even during drought conditions,” she said. “There were major impacts on the lake, fish, beavers and surrounding environment.”
“Water is a huge concern for us, and for all British Columbians. By approving this licence, the province demonstrated it is not protecting the public interest in water.”
The appeals board found the province did not base its decision to grant the water permit in 2012 on sound science. Certain aspects of the permit were based on “a general and untested theory,” the board stated in its decision, and the percentage of lake water Nexen was allowed to use was “not supported by either scientific theory, appropriate and reliable stream flow modeling, or adequate field data.”
The ruling rejected the province’s assertion the water withdrawal would have no significant environmental impacts.
The board also found the province failed to operate in good faith with the Fort Nelson First Nation, which has a constitutionally protected right to hunt, trap, fish and continue traditional ways of life on its Treaty 8 territory.
The province’s consultation process with the First Nation was “seriously flawed,” according to the board and failed to adequately consider the adverse effects of the water withdrawal licence on the nation.
“We want to work with the province and industry on sustainable development in our territory, but we are being ignored,” Chief Logan said. “We have in the past, and are willing to do so moving forward, as long as our treaty rights are respected and the public interest in environmentally sustainable development is upheld.”
The ruling will set a new precedent for water permits in B.C. and could potentially impact fracking operations underpinning the province’s push for a massive increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.
“This decision sends a clear message to the B.C. government and to the fracking industry that the LNG dream will not happen at the expense of our lakes, rivers, and treaty rights,” Logan said.
Image: Province of B.C.