Ecojustice Blog – Climate change, Healthy communities Posted on November 13, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

New case launch: Fracking, drilling and water use in B.C.

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

Many of you have called and written to ask when we might launch a fracking case. And for good reason: With protests in New Brunswick and Newfoundland’s moratorium making headlines across the country, fracking is in the hot seat.

Well, we’re about that make that seat a little hotter.

Today we filed a lawsuit with the B.C. Supreme Court, challenging a B.C. Oil and Gas Commission practice that allows the gas industry to exploit fresh water for fracking operations (among other things). This case is a crucial step forward in curtailing an industry whose practices increasingly threaten B.C.’s water resources and the ecosystems and people that depend on them.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Karen Campbell breaks down what you need to know about this case in the Q&A below.

Ecojustice (EJ): What is this lawsuit about?
Karen Campbell (KC): This lawsuit aims to stop the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission from granting repeated short-term water use approvals to oil and gas companies.

EJ: Why?
KC: These short-term approvals are intended to permit water usage for short-term projects, for instance construction or roadwork, allowing water withdrawals for up to two years. Water usage beyond the two-year limit, such as that by oil and gas companies, requires a water licence and with that, additional oversight.

By granting oil and gas companies repeated short-term approvals for water withdrawals, the Commission is undermining B.C.’s water management regime and allowing these companies to dewater northern B.C.

EJ: What does this mean for people and the environment?
KC: Gas companies often draw water from the same sources communities rely on to provide their drinking water. For instance, Encana draws millions of cubic litres of water from the Kiskatinaw River for its nearby drilling and fracking activities. The river, which has recorded low flows in recent years, is also a key source of drinking water for the residents of Dawson Creek, B.C.

The more water industrial users take, the less water there is to sustain ecosystems or for people to drink.  What’s especially concerning is that no one seems to know exactly how much water industry operations are consuming.

EJ: Why the concern over fracking?
KC: In the past several years, industry has come to rely heavily on fracking as a means of natural gas production. More than half of the water used for fracking in B.C. is authorized through short-term approvals. Fracking involves injecting large quantities of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down wellbores. The pressurized mixture causes the rock layer to fracture and release the natural gas trapped in the formation. As part of the fracking process, significant quantities of contaminated wastewater typically flow back up wellbores afterward, requiring safe disposal. In B.C., generally, half the water that goes down comes up contaminated and must be disposed.

EJ: How much water does fracking use?
KC: No one knows for sure. This means that the regulator and the public do not know for certain how much water has been taken, and from where, at any given time. The Commission now requires self-reporting by companies for approvals but this does not capture all water use by the oil and gas industry.

EJ: What’s the solution?
KC: The B.C. government has indicated that it will introduce a Water Sustainability Act. It is imperative that any new legislation establish careful and rigorous oversight of water use by the oil and gas industry, whose share of B.C. water resources continues to rise, particularly given the government’s intent to expand the natural gas industry in the province.

EJ: How can I help?
KC: Please consider making a donation of whatever you can comfortably afford today. Lawsuits like this take a long time to develop and litigate, which is why your support is critical to our work. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to bring cases like this one forward!

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