BC Green Caucus Finds Gov Response to Fracking Report Insufficient

June 28, 2019

LNG to Increase Fracking, Evidence Shows Danger to Health, Environment

Note: This release was sent in response to the B.C. Government’s update titled “Government’s response to hydraulic fracturing report: update,” which was posted online-only yesterday afternoon. 

VICTORIA, B.C. — The B.C. Green Caucus finds government’s response, which it posted online-only this afternoon, to the independent review titled the Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia Report to be insufficient to address the magnitude of issues highlighted in the report, especially with LNG bringing with it an increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“Proceeding with fracking and liquefied natural gas (LNG) development while simultaneously trying to formulate a body of evidence to support it is deeply troubling,” said MLA Sonia Furstenau, spokesperson for the environment. 

This independent report found that fracking - a process associated with massive greenhouse gas emissions and worsening climate change - entails numerous unknown risks to the environment and human health, but the report also cautions that there is too little data to fully quantify the severity of those risks.

“The key findings in this report warn of serious regulatory infractions, water contamination, and a lack of information, oversight and monitoring that make it nearly impossible to evaluate the current state of our water and air quality. It’s too risky,” Furstenau said.

“This should alarm all British Columbians. Climate change is impacting communities across the province, as demonstrated most recently by the developing wildfire season and unprecedented drought conditions. And yet the government continues to try to justify a project that will increase emissions, as well as risk contaminating community drinking water, and endangering human health.”

The Panel reported it was not aware of any health-related studies being conducted in NEBC. According to the report, “In the view of the BC Ministry of Health expert who presented to the Panel, current water quality sampling (i.e. the Private Wells Study) is not being carried out to screen for potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluids and wastewater on drinking water. The goal of that study is to sample Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia groundwater to understand the background geochemistry of the groundwater to inform on aquifer mapping.”

“The B.C. Green Caucus voted against LNG development and fracking at every available opportunity,” Furstenau said. “We will continue to focus on implementing the CleanBC economic climate action plan, improving environmental protections, and holding government accountable for the well-being of British Columbians.”

Excerpts of Key Findings 

Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia Report

3.2.4. 

Considering the vastness of the region, alongside the increased level of industrial development, the Panel considers the baseline data and the ongoing monitoring of surface water and groundwater quantity to be insufficient.

The hydrology expert from BCOGC stated that statistics indicate that the past 10 years have been drier than “normal”, which coincided with high water use by industry. One First Nation reported seeing water withdrawals at times when river flows were quite low, so they “hear BCOGC saying one thing [drought] and yet continue to see withdrawals.” As discussed in Section 3.2 on climate change impacts, such dry years could be the new normal

3.4.4. 

The Panel found that the construction of a series of large earth dams between 2011 and 2016 for the purpose of storing fresh water to support hydraulic fracturing activities, appears to have escaped the proper regulatory oversight. In several cases the dams were large enough that they should have required additional reviews and authorizations under the Dam Safety Regulation, the Water Act, and the Environmental Assessment Act (as these were in place at the time of their construction). In effect, the companies responsible appear not to have submitted all necessary applications, and treated the structures as dugouts instead of dams.

3.5.4. 

The resounding concern about disposal capacity in NEBC was not anticipated by the Panel, and points to a critical need to begin planning for the short and long-term future of natural gas development in NEBC. There was a clear message that the capacity for wastewater storage is inadequate to meet the anticipated increase in production over the coming years. Thus, it is paramount to either reduce the amount of wastewater being generated or find alternative options for disposing of this waste. The wastewater facility proposed by one operator is one potential avenue; however, the Panel cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to exercise caution. 

4.2.2. 

The Panel had difficulty identifying experts on surface water quality in NEBC. Only one group of experts from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) could speak to baseline surface water quality ...Some of the knowledge gaps identified include: limited water quality or biological monitoring data; limited groundwater and permafrost information; lack of information on the chemical composition of produced waters; and difficulty accessing water withdrawal information.

….Turbidity in the Kiskatinaw River, the city’s sole source of drinking water, is also elevated; it is the second most turbid river in BC. During spring freshet, the turbidity can be as high as 2,000 NTU (for comparison, BC drinking water guidelines suggest that a boil water notice should be issued when turbidity levels exceed 1 NTU). The city identified produced water pits in the watershed that are of concern, as are industrial chemicals and road salt. If there is a spill, and they lose their water supply, they may have 6 hours to 4 days of water.

4.2.3. 

The study concludes that the lack of information on water, both on quality and quantity prior to the 1970s, prevented baseline conditions to be characterized, and there is an absence of adequate temporal and spatial monitoring of both surface water and groundwater prior to and concurrent with human activities that may impact water. And finally, that there is a profound absence of knowledge about the presence and migration of fluids in the intermediate zone of the subsurface.

Dissolved arsenic was found to be the main health-based constituent of concern, with about 30% of samples exceeding the maximum allowable concentration (MAC) guideline of 0.010 mg/L. More than half of those samples had arsenic concentrations greater than 0.005 mg/L. It should be noted that the private well sampling protocol included field filtration of groundwater samples (Baye et al. 2016), and thus, higher arsenic levels could potentially occur in unfiltered groundwater, which may exceed the Health Canada maximum allowable concentration (MAC).

4.2.4. 

Regional baseline studies on surface water quality are lacking for NEBC, with the notable exception of the Petitot watershed study and the Horn River Basin study.

4.4.4. 

The Panel considers the potential for leaks from containment ponds to be moderate to high based on the fact that two of four ponds that have been decommissioned to date were found to have leaked

Overall, no groundwater monitoring is required except at facilities. 

4.5.4. 

Typically, mapped aquifers in BC show the extent of the aquifer based on well data. If there are no data, then there is no mapped aquifer. This is especially problematic for bedrock aquifers that appear as isolated polygons surrounded by the same bedrock unit. Moreover, there are very few measurements of the hydraulic properties needed to characterize aquifers and map capture zones. Spring capture zones also do not appear on the Groundwater Review Assistant tool. Therefore, there are significant limitations to the Groundwater Review Assistant for assessing the sensitivity of groundwater systems in the vicinity of proposed wastewater disposal wells. The tool is a start, but requires a lot more data to be relied upon solely for a hydrogeological review.

4.6.4. 

There is a significant knowledge gap on the extent and magnitude of NORM risk. NORM in wastewater is a particular concern. The Panel infers that concentration of chemicals, including NORM, in wastewater is becoming more concentrated, given that operators are increasingly recycling and reusing wastewater for hydraulic fracturing operations. Wastewater is stored on surface (in ponds, c-rings) and evaporates, further concentrating dissolved chemicals, and concentrations up to 425 Bq/L have been measured. There is also a high likelihood that chemical precipitates in pipes contain TENORM, which can be eroded by wind and become airborne. Such airborne particles are a known human health hazard.

7.4.3. 

BCOGC lists the current cumulative orphan inventory to be approximately 326 wells, a sizeable increase from the 45 reported for 2015/16. The spending on orphan wells from the Orphan Site Reclamation Fund (OSRF) in 2017/18 was $5.7 million compared to an average of just over $1 million per year over the three previous years.

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