VANCOUVER – Natural gas company fracking operations should be banned near all hydro dams out of concerns that earthquakes triggered by such operations could endanger human life.
The call comes in the wake of documents released by BC Hydro in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). In light of what the documents reveal, the CCPA—along with the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club BC and Wilderness Committee—says they underscore the need for an immediate ban.
“The time has come for the provincial government to take strong, unambiguous action. Fracking is brute-force technology. It can trigger earthquakes. It has no place near critical dams or reservoirs,” says Ben Parfitt, CCPA-BC resource policy analyst.
Documents obtained through the FOI request show that since at least 2009, dam safety officials with BC Hydro have been concerned that fracking could trigger earthquakes that were “greater than the original design criteria” for its Peace Canyon dam. Since then, officials with BC Hydro and the provincial Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) have met behind closed doors to discuss placing limits on fracking operations near Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams – the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon facilities – and the location of an approved third dam on the river, the $9-billion Site C dam.
Despite the talks, no firm regulatory commitment has been made to ban fracking near some of BC’s biggest hydro dams, despite the fact that earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 4.6 have been triggered by fracking operations in the Peace River region.
“The government is pushing two conflicting agendas. We think that has blinded it to certain risks posed by fracking and explains why it has failed to take action,” says Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee. “Building a new, and in our view completely unnecessary dam across the Peace River, while simultaneously pushing for maximum natural gas industry extraction, is bad public policy.”
“We are very concerned that discussions between BC Hydro and the OGC have been in secret. First Nations and landowners in the Peace River valley who stand to lose the most have not been properly consulted and have had little say on what constitutes safe practices,” says Ana Simeon, Peace Valley campaigner for the Sierra Club BC.
Research by the CCPA shows that BC Hydro’s efforts to protect its dams have met with only modest success. An “understanding” reached with the OGC means no new rights to drill and frack for gas will be granted in zones within five kilometres of its Peace River dams, but companies that have existing rights to drill and frack for gas in the zones can continue to do so. In the event that happens, BC Hydro says it will “work closely” with the OGC “to put restrictions in place to effectively manage any risk.”
There are no restrictions in place on lands surrounding BC Hydro reservoirs.
Meanwhile, Alberta hydro provider TransAlta has effectively halted all fracking within five kilometres of its Brazeau dam and all around the dam’s reservoir as well. It has also secured agreement with Alberta’s energy industry regulator that fracking will be more tightly controlled in a five-to-ten-kilometre zone surrounding its dam and reservoir.
However, as in B.C., the measures to protect Alberta’s Brazeau dam were negotiated without public scrutiny. There is no formal regulation creating frack-free zones.
The FOI-released documents reinforce the need for new regulations that the CCPA called for in its 2011 report into fracking, namely the need for clear exclusion zones.
“Good policy decisions require openness and transparency, are grounded in sound science and are precautionary when there is evidence of risk. Declaring firm no-fracking zones in proximity to major public infrastructure would satisfy these basic criteria. It is disappointing that these principles are not being heeded,” says Jay Ritchlin, the David Suzuki Foundation’s director general of western Canada.
The groups call on the provincial government to immediately take three steps:
- Declare firm “no-go zones” where natural gas developments and fracking are prohibited, with immediate attention to the Peace River valley’s hydro dams.
- Transfer powers to set no-go zones from BC’s natural gas industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Commission, to the provincial Ministry of Environment.
- Require provincial Ministry of Health or Ministry of Public Safety personnel to review and approve all proposed fracking operations that may potentially endanger public health and safety.
For interviews, contact: Lindsey Bertrand, CCPA-BC Media and Publications Specialist, at 604-801-5121 x 238 or lindsey[at]policyalternatives[dot]ca .
Read Ben Parfitt’s analysis: http://www.policynote.ca/big-fracking-problem/