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It’s Official: Site C Dam Could Power Fracking Operations in Northeast B.C.

The electricity created by the controversial Site C dam — long touted for producing enough electricity for 450,000 homes — could end up powering natural gas fracking operations in northeast B.C.

The Prince George Citizen reported on Wednesday that for the first time BC Hydro is considering Site C as a power source for its proposed Peace Region Electrical Supply project, a major transmission line project in northeast B.C.

If the Site C dam gets built (it’s currently facing several legal challenges) and BC Hydro moves forward with the proposed route for the transmission line, natural gas drillers between Dawson Creek and Chetwynd could plug directly into the grid.

The Citizen reports that Hydro expects the transmission project won’t be in service until 2022, making Site C — set for completion in 2025 — a viable option.

The subject of what Site C’s power is required for has spurred intense debate. Some have argued that the dam is needed to power B.C.’s proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. However, a DeSmog Canada investigation last year indicated that was unlikely to be the case due to timing and transmission constraints.

This week’s news, however, indicates Site C’s power could be used to produce the gas the province plans to export via LNG plants.

"It’d always been in the back of the mind that Site C was possible, but until it got approved it wasn't something we were looking into in a great amount of detail," BC Hydro spokesperson Lesley Wood told the Prince George Citizen.

With a price tag of $8.8 billion, the Site C dam is the most expensive public project in B.C. history. Because it's being proposed by a crown corporation, the costs will ultimately be borne by taxpayers and BC Hydro customers. If built, the dam will flood an 83-kilometre stretch of the fertile Peace Valley.

Work has already started to upgrade power lines in the Groundbirch area east of Dawson Creek, where the province has been experiencing the "most dramatic single-industry driven regional load growth BC Hydro has ever seen," Wood told the Citizen.

The natural gas is located in the Montney Play region, which contains unconventional tight gas and shale gas. The gas is accessed through a process called hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — which involves blasting a mixture of water and chemicals underground to fracture the rock formation and release the gas.

A fracking study released last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found fracking puts drinking water supplies at risk of contamination. Further, exporting LNG will not help combat climate change, according to a report from the Pembina Institute last year. A report in Nature last year also found cheap abundant natural gas will delay efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Site C is facing growing opposition, despite BC Hydro hoping to start construction in July.

In May, a U.S. energy economist said the power from the dam is dramatically more costly than previously thought.

Earlier this year, the chair of the joint review panel that reviewed the Site C dam told DeSmog Canada that the province should have waited on making a decision to go ahead with the project. Chair Harry Swain also called the province’s failure to investigate alternatives a “dereliction of duty.”

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Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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