VANCOUVER – A scientific panel appointed by the provincial government to review natural gas industry fracking operations conspicuously avoids tackling human health concerns, which can only be properly addressed by a full public inquiry, say public health groups, other non-governmental organizations and First Nations.
The groups are responding to the government’s recent decision to appoint a three-member science panel to look at a very narrow range of activities associated with fracking and to expressly not address the significant human health and climatic threats posed by the industry.
The panel has also been given no mandate to look at the repeated failure of the BC Oil and Gas Commission to hold fossil fuel companies to account for breaking rules or any examination of how fracking industry activities continue to infringe on Indigenous rights and title.
“In northeast BC, rural communities generally and isolated First Nation communities particularly are directly in harm’s way as the fossil fuel industry further encroaches on our shared lands and waters,” says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“We know from preliminary studies that pregnant Indigenous women in the region have potential carcinogens in their blood that are six times higher than the Canadian average. We need nothing less than a full public inquiry that overtly addresses such harsh realities,” he said.
Seventeen organizations called for a public inquiry into fracking last November after news surfaced that fossil fuel companies had built dozens of unlicensed dams in northeast BC. The dams were built to trap freshwater used in fracking operations where water, chemicals and sand are pressure-pumped underground to break up gas-bearing rock. More water is used in BC fracking operations than anywhere on the continent, resulting in numerous earthquakes.
A month after calling on the BC government to appoint a full public inquiry, the organizations reiterated the call when it was reported that BC’s Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) had sat on a report for four years that showed how hundreds of drilled and fracked gas wells in northeast BC might be leaking methane and contaminating groundwater.
The groups said then that a full public inquiry was essential to get at what public policy changes are needed to eliminate the health and environmental risks associated with fracking. The groups also demanded a review of the OGC’s lax oversight of the industry.
“What the government has done in response to our well-documented concerns is to appoint a far too narrowly focused science panel that very expressly won’t address what public policy and regulatory changes are needed to eliminate the serious health, ecological and climatic risks associated with fracking and all related natural gas infrastructure in this province. This is not a credible process and we cannot support it,” says Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“We are deeply dismayed at the lack of any reference to health issues in the panel’s mandate. A recent paper reviewed 685 studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals studying the health effects of fracking. It concluded that 84% of studies contain findings that indicate adverse public health effects; 69% of studies contain findings that indicate evidence of water contamination; 87% of studies indicate worsened air quality associated with fracking,” says Dr. Larry Barzelai, head of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
“In addition, the greatest health risk associated with fracking is its dramatic contribution to climate change. The World Health Organization has labelled climate change to be the greatest risk to human health in the 21st century,” he said.
Given these and other concerns raised about the panel’s mandate, the following organizations do not have faith in the process.
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, BC Chapter – Contact Dr. Larry Barzelai (604)649-7534
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office - Contact Ben Parfitt (250)580-4304
Corporate Mapping Project – Contact Bill Carroll (250)592-3715
Council of Canadians – Contact Emma Lui, (613)617-6799
David Suzuki Foundation – Contact John Werring (604)732-4228
Douglas Channel Watch – Contact Cheryl Brown (250)975-0798
Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition – Contact Des Nobels (250)627-1859
Keepers of the Water – Contact Caleb Behn (250)857-5606
Public Health Association of BC – Contact Amy Lubik (604)767-0914
Saanich Inlet Network – Contact Hilary Swang (604)803-9985
Sierra Club – Contact Caitlyn Vernon (250)896-3500
Skeena Wild – Contact Greg Knox (250)615-1990
Union of BC Indian Chiefs – Contact Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (250)490-5314
West Coast Environmental Law Association – Contact Hannah Askew (604)880-6286
Wilderness Committee – Contact Joe Foy (604)683-8220