encana-fracking-cutbank-ridge-bc.jpg

BC Regulator Sued for Water Act Violations Related to Fracking Industry

Three environmental organizations are taking aim at what they call the “systemic” contravening of British Columbia water usage laws in favour of the province's natural gas industry.

A lawsuit (PDF) recently filed in the Supreme Court of BC alleges that the BC Oil and Gas Commission has been violating the provincial Water Act in its granting of licenses to natural gas companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the province. The suit is being brought by environmental law charity Ecojustice on behalf of the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC.

“Given that water is an increasingly scarce and precious resource, and that in a climate changing world we need to be managing it carefully, the first step is for the government to do what they are legally required to do by their own laws,” Caitlyn Vernon of Sierra Club BC told Desmog in an interview.

Currently, companies can be granted 24 month permits for water use as a short term arrangement (that's up from the 12 month limit that was in place until last spring). These permits come with little review and are meant for short-term, low-impact projects. For longer term undertakings that will last several years – such as oil and gas extraction – companies are supposed to apply for a water usage license, which involves a more rigorous review and monitoring process. The lawsuit alleges that the commission has been consistently renewing short-term permits, and thereby contravening the law.

Data received by Ecojustice from the BC Oil and Gas commission which forms the basis of the lawsuit, shows that some permits have been renewed up to six times, and that some permits are granted for more than 24 months at a time. The commission's actions, they say, clearly shows a systemic avoidance of the law.

Also named in the lawsuit is gas company Encana Corp. While there are no allegations that Encana has violated permitting laws itself, the suit hopes to quash two water permits that the company was granted, on the basis that the permits last more than one term and that some exceed the 24 month limit laid out in the Water Act. While Encana is only one of many companies operating fracking sites in the province, it is one of the largest, and their situation provides clear evidence of the contravention of the Water Act, explained Karen Campbell of Ecojustice in a phone interview with Desmog.

Long-term water usage licenses require oversight necessary to preserve the province's freshwater, and especially drinking water, according to Campbell. Already there are concerns that communities in northern BC are experiencing water shortages. For example, the three organizations point to Encana drawing on massive amounts of water from the Kisktinaw River, from with the town of Dawson Creek draws their water.

Over the past three years, the company has used the equivalent of 880 Olympic-sized swimming pools – the same amount the town uses in one year.

“The more water industrial users take, the less water there is to sustain ecosystems or for people to drink,” said Campbell in a Q & A released by Ecojustice. “What’s especially concerning is that no one seems to know exactly how much water industry operations are consuming.” Those concerns were echoed by Vernon, who explained that no government official has been able to provide them with exactly how much water is being used by the natural gas industry in the province.

Video from Common Sense Canadian.

What is known is that fracking uses huge amounts of water: by some estimates 11 million litres per well. With over 7,300 wells already in operation in the province, and the BC Liberal government pushing plans to significantly grow the industry, critics say it's clear that there needs to be more oversight before a water crisis strikes.

“If we're looking at the management of water in BC, in light of all the fracking that's currently happening, we want to make clear that any focus on liquid natural gas is going to require massive increases in fracking operations, with its associated impacts to water availability, water contamination and green house gas emissions,” said Vernon. Those concerns were echoed in an article published as part of a recent series on water issues in BC, also produced by Ecojustice and published by The Tyee, which showed that water shortages in the province are more probable than many would expect.

The concern about water use is just one piece of the puzzle, though. The fracking industry in BC is one of the largest in Canada. As Campbell points out, while there are moratoriums on fracking in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and protests and blockades against fracking in New Brunswick, the process has been happening without contention in BC for a decade now. Beyond water usage, there are concerns about water contamination from the chemicals used, the impact that the fracturing of shale may have on local geology (studies have blamed fracking for small earth quakes in the US), and lack of consultation with First Nations on use of their unceded territory.

Public concern and opposition seems to be growing though. Earlier this month, protesters with Rising Tide Vancouver Coast Salish Territories took to BC Premier Christy Clark's front lawn to set-up a “rig” to “frack” her land. And thousands turned out to a demonstration in Vancouver against pipelines on November 16. While primarily targeting oil pipelines like Enbridge's Northern Gateway, there was also visible opposition to fracking.

“I think this lawsuit is a really important piece of increasing public concern about this industry and their practices. And I think that in some point in time we will be looking at trade-offs, and what are we prepared to trade off? Are we prepared to trade off our water for gas?” asks Campbell. “Or is our water going to be a more valuable and previous asset to us at some point down the road than gas? Certainly I think that the answer is water, myself.”

We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?

Climate change is hitting Ontario’s farms hard. Why won’t the government talk about it?

By the 2050s, Ontario farmers may no longer be able to grow certain varieties of apples or wine grapes, “regardless of how quickly greenhouse gas...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Thousands of members make The Narwhal’s independent journalism possible. Will you help power our work in 2024?
Will you help power our journalism in 2024?
… which means our weekly newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers who get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes glimpse into our in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
… which means our weekly newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers who get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes glimpse into our in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Overlay Image