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BC needs a full public inquiry into fracking

By BEN PARFITT 

Last year, more natural gas was produced in British Columbia than at any point in the past 10 years. 

Even without the much-hyped liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, natural gas production in BC jumped 70 per cent over the past decade. 

The ecological, human health and safety and climate costs associated with producing fossil fuel are generally poorly appreciated by urbanites. But First Nations, farming families and rural communities can quickly list a litany of problems. 

A troubling increase in earthquakes. Contaminated groundwater and surface water sources. A sprawling network of unauthorized dams. Rapidly escalating industrial water use and contamination. Massive fragmentation of Indigenous lands and lost opportunities to carry out traditional hunting and fishing activities. Troubling increases in methane emissions at gas wells and other natural gas industry facilities. Ongoing threats of sour gas leaks that can kill and maim. 

A public inquiry about how natural gas is produced in BC is long overdue and something our new government can remedy. 

The NDP’s 2017 campaign platform actually called for a review of fracking. It just didn’t get much attention. 

Given the known impacts associated with recent fracking operations in BC, the NDP’s commitment is a starting point. But to be meaningful and effective, the commitment must go beyond appointing a scientific panel. 

Some of the reasons why: 

  • In August 2015, the largest earthquake anywhere ever scientifically linked to a fracking operation occurred in northeast BC – a 4.6 magnitude tremor.
  • BC Hydro is so concerned about its Peace River dams – among the most critical infrastructure in the province - it has quietly succeeded in getting fracking banished from near those facilities. 
  • Water use at BC fracking operations is off the charts with fracking companies actually building dozens of unlicensed dams across northeast BC to trap freshwater needed for fracking. They failed to notify those First Nations most directly impacted let alone the general public. 
  • Methane is leaking into the atmosphere at numerous gas well sites and may have also contaminated groundwater sources. 

A fully funded public inquiry with expert witnesses is the least British Columbians deserve. 

An inquiry should not be limited to scientific questions, but should focus on the risks associated with fracking and what should be done about them. It should address important questions like: 

  • Have natural gas companies and provincial regulators appropriately consulted with First Nations as required by law and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? 
  • What is the true extent of public health and safety risks associated with fracking, including the risks posed by industry-induced earthquakes? 
  • Where are outright bans on fracking warranted and what other steps should be taken to comprehensively protect human health and safety? 
  • What are the environmental and water impacts? 
  • How much could accelerated gas drilling and fracking increase BC’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and what should be done to ensure that industry emissions move steadily down, not up? 

There have been several public inquiries into forestry in BC, but no such scrutiny of the province’s oil and gas sector. The new provincial government should immediately rectify that.  

Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives BC Office. The CCPA is one of 17 organizations calling for a public inquiry into fracking in BC.