Roy L Hales is the founder/editor of the ECOreport (http://theecoreport.com/). He started writing feature articles for weekly publications in 1982 and his work is published on websites like Clean Technica, Renewable Energy World, East County Magazine, The Watershed Sentinel and PV SolarReport. He lives on Cortes Island in BC.
View all posts by Roy Hales →
A recent earthquake near Wonowon, 100 km north of Fort St. John, is the largest of over 500 seismic events in northeastern BC, believed to be related to hydraulic fracturing. It may be remembered as BC’s 4.6m fracking quake.
“Likely induced by hydraulic fracturing”
Though the connection has not yet been proven, the quake’s epicentre was just 3 kilometres from Progress Energy’s fracking site. The company immediately shut down operations and notified the province’s oil and gas commission.
“It’s still under investigation, but it was likely induced by hydraulic fracturing,” said Alan Clay, the commission’s communications manager.
History of tremors
When the commission monitored seismic events in this area, during the fourteen months ending in October 2014, they “found that during this period 231 seismic events in the Montney were attributed to oil and gas operations – 38 induced by wastewater disposal and 193 by hydraulic fracturing operations. None of the recorded events resulted in any injuries, property damage or loss of wellbore containment.”
A previous study, in the province’s Horn River Basin,”(2012) documented 272 seismic events” that “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults” between April 2009 and December 2011.
Though most of these seismic events were also too slight to be felt, the Wonowon quake is different.
“Everyone here felt it”
“Everybody here felt it. I was sitting in my medic truck and I felt the whole thing shake. Some light towers were shaking,” Kaila Walton told the Alaska Highway News.
“My house got shook. My couch I was on was actually shaking with me. It dawned on me it could be earthquake, but it could be fracking in the area. I don’t think they should continue fracking,” Bernice Lilly told the CBC.
There have also been quakes across the border, in the Fox Creek area of Alberta. Prior to the commencement of fracking operations in 2013, this region had one measurable quake a year. There have been at least 160 “small” quakes since then and two measuring 4.4 this year.
According to Gail Atkinson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Induced Seismicity Hazards at Ontario’s Western University, “the magnitudes have been increasing every year.”
There have been complaints about the flawed National Energy Board (NEB) Hearings, on the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), from the beginning. Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen withdrew last fall, calling the proceedings “a farce and this Board truly a industry captured regulator.” When former ICBC President and CEO Robyn Allan left, last May, she said the panel is “not an impartial referee…the game is rigged.” This morning, another 35 participants left the NEB hearings.
Two are representatives of environmental organizations, the other 33 are private individuals.
Peter Wood, from the BC Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS BC), said he wouldn’t be surprised if more intervenors and commenters leave.
He wanted to stress the positive side of today’s events, “We believe there is more room for an independent evaluation. A made in B.C. process where we have some sense of transparency, where we actually see what is going and the intervenors get a chance to ask the proponents questions. Right now, we are not able to do (this). We also want a process that considers the full scope of the project.”
“Lets talk about Climate Change. Lets talk about the impact the Tar Sands have on Alberta. We consider all of these things part of the whole project.”
Climate change ignored
These were similar to the issues the city of Vancouver raised with the NEB, in February 2014. Around 95% of its economy is “non-resource based.” Vancouver is “a leader in sustainable development,” the city noted.
[quote]The local economy depends on Vancouver’s reputation for sustainability to attract businesses, professionals and other workers…Vancouver has a responsibility for planning and mitigating impacts of severe weather events and rising sea levels…[/quote]
The City of Burnaby had also expressed concerns about the proposed pipeline’s failure to describe “…design elements that incorporate the broader effects of climate change…”
Eoin Madden, from the Wilderness Committee, added that “financial benefits of development of oil sands and oil transportation are front and centre of the TMEP hearings, and that other socioeconomic and environmental impacts are expressly excluded…”
“The fact they have been ignoring Climate impacts is to all of our detriment. Why would we want to lock ourselves into an outdated, dangerous infrastructure when clean and healthy alternatives exist,” said Larissa Stendie, who is not an intervener, but whose organization (Sierra Club BC) has been watching the NEB process closely.
Pipelines through provincial parks
Another concern is that the proposed pipeline route goes through five provincial parks.
“This violates all the values these parks were created for. Why are we even considering that?” asks Wood.
Kinder Morgan was conducting research in some of those parks before the provincial government introduced Bill 4 last March.
Wood said, “The permits Kinder Morgan was operating under were issued before the legislation that authorized the province to do so. So the question is, were new permits issued? We can’t find out that information.”
(This is one of several questions the ECOreport has asked the Ministry of Environment.)
The boundary adjustment process is already at a “very advanced at stage” at Bridal Veil Falls, near Chilliwack, and in the Lac Du Bois Grasslands Protected Area, northwest of Kamloops.
Prioritizing industry over public interest
Madden’s name topped the list of those who left the process today and in a press release he explained, “It’s a sad day for us. The federal government has altered the pipeline approval process so that Canadians no longer have a proper say on these major industrial projects. What we’re left with is a broken system that prioritizes industry over the public interest.”
The 35 departing intervenors and commenters sent the NEB a joint letter of resignation, in which they said:
[quote]“The review has discounted and devalued expert evidence, most specifically the knowledge of the lands and territories the pipeline will pass through, and the likely impact it will have on our waters and salmon. It has under-resourced Nations and Bands, thereby ensuring an unbalanced and ill-informed hearing,” they said in a prepared statement.
“By ignoring the impact the Project could have on our climate, any findings of the review will be fundamentally incomplete. If constructed, the Project will have massive climate change ramifications. The exclusion of any discussion on the climate impacts of the Project from the hearings is a gross failure of public responsibility.”
“The vast majority of concerned citizens, groups and Nations have been shut out of the review. Those lucky enough to secure participation in the review have been deprived of the right to cross-examine Trans Mountain. Participants have repeatedly requested Trans Mountain address a range of issues which Trans Mountain has successfully avoided answering. The review has lost all semblance of a due process.”[/quote]
BC should conduct its own review
They sent the Government of BC a copy of that notice and Wood said he hopes it will initiate a conversation. The province has previously expressed concerns and “has every reason to have a fair say in the process and conduct their own review.” They would shoulder a great deal of risk from the proposed pipeline, “and derive very little benefit.”
As regards the parks, the Minister does not have to allow that project to proceed to the public consultation pored. “If the Minister decides the values for which that park was proposed are inconsistent with those for which the park was created, she has the power to dismiss it outright.”
Allan: govt not protecting public
So far, the province has shown little inclination to have its own environmental assessment.
“One of the major reasons I applied as an intervenor is the serious concern I had that our provincial government was not protecting the public interest,” former ICBC CEO Robyn Allan told the National Observer last month. “If an intervenor does not ask questions, then the intervenor is saying they accept the evidence as provided by the proponent as non-contested.”
At that point, Vancouver had sent in 171 queries, Burnaby 132, and the province 23.
Another of the ECOreport’s as yet unanswered questions to the Ministry is whether BC is willing to withdraw from the NEB process and have its own environmental assessment.
Sierra Club BC will soon be sending out an invitation to a creative demonstration at Vancouver’s English Bay Beach: 10:30 AM, Sunday, August 16.
“It will be a theatrical opportunity to discuss and dramatize some of the potential health risks posed by tankers plying those waters, ” said Stendie.
The race is on. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament early, to launch what is expected to be the most expensive election in Canadian history. “Upwards of $700 million” could be spent on this campaign and a large chunk of the contributions to all parties will be claimed as tax deductions. According to Dr. Maxwell Cameron, from UBC’s Department of Political Science, BC may determine the outcome.
“There are many battleground ridings in British Columbia. We have 42 seats, due to the redistricting, and many of those seats are in play. I don’t think the NDP or the Conservatives can hope to put together any sort of majority without substantial support in BC,” said Cameron.
Polls can be deceptive, “as they do not reflect how support is distributed across ridings,” but Cameron believes both the NDP and Liberals are picking up support. The NDP could win between 22 and 25 seats. The Liberals will probably do better than in 2011 (when they won 2 seats). The Greens “might pick up one (additional) seat, but I will be a bit surprised if they get more than that.”
Pipelines could swing votes
“The pipeline issue is potentially a significant one, as there is a lot of opposition along the Coast and the Lower Mainland as well. Fears of tankers and spills have been very much at the front of voters minds,” said Cameron.
“It can be very disempowering (for communities) to be told this is what is going to happen and you don’t really have any say in the matter. I think the procedures we have in place, for doing the consultation, the stakeholder negotiations, environmental assessments etc are flawed. ”
[quote]The recent bunker fuel spill in Vancouver drew attention to the weakness of our response. Frankly when you close the Coast Guard station off Kitsilano (as the Conservative government did) and then you can’t respond to a spill, it looks like there is a responsibility for that.
On the other hand, this is a resource-dependent province, big parts of the province depend on timber, mining, oil and gas. There are going to be people who argue we need growth through exploitation of natural resources and those voters are more likely to go to the Conservatives.[/quote]
Slow economy hurts Harper
Canada appears to be heading into a recession, and the Conservatives are expected to campaign on their “record of sound fiscal management.” Expect Harper to say, “now is not the time to change.”
In reality, under the Conservatives economic “growth has been slow, slower than under any PM of recent memory. This is not all Harper’s fault, but he hasn’t made (the necessary) improvements to foster productivity and innovation.”
Even during times of prosperity, the benefits have primarily gone to the wealthy. Wages “have flatlined” for most Canadians, and unemployment has increased.
This is a trend that goes back to the 1980’s, with the adoption of international agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and cutbacks to public spending. It has continued under Harper.
Minority government a real possibility
Cameron added it is possible that neither the NDP or Conservatives will get a majority. “All of the current projections have us going into a minority government.” In that case, we could be going back to the polls again in 18 months.
According to the Globe and Mail, Canadian Premiers are about to sign an agreement that would fast track pipeline projects. The 34-page-report describes how to deal with the opposition Energy East, Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL faced from environmental groups and First Nations. It suggests that red tape be cut down so decisions can be quicker. If the initial responses from community leaders are an indication, BC says NO to “Canadian Energy Strategy”.
Business as usual not good enough
“I was rather surprised to read the article and I question the urgency and rush. If there is a rush, it is that we diversify our economy instead of doubling down on an industry that is oversupplied globally,” said Green MLA Andrew Weaver.
“A document prepared for a premier’s meeting doesn’t come close to developing a national energy strategy,” says Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.
[quote]If they want social license to move fossil fuel products, they will have to be much more inclusive and listen to the citizens of their provinces and territories. Business as usual just isn’t good enough.[/quote]
Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen says, “The draft report appears to be outdated and out of step with both current oil market realities, and the strong opposition by most Canadians to building oil pipelines and expanding oil sands extraction without a view to adding value in Canada. Canadians are also clear about their unwillingness to put up with anything short of meaningful limitations on GHG emissions.”
“If what is being reported in the Globe and Mail is accurate, it is extremely short-sighted. We need a genuine shift in our approach to climate change, not some closed-door deal that is going to help the companies and not help the public,” said Bob Peart, Executive Director of Sierra Club BC.
She added that when constituents raise questions about pipelines or Climate Change, they should be adequately considered.
Bob Peart found the way in which the premiers are trying to cut the voice of the Canadian public out of decision making process disturbing.
“Someone said to me the other day, historically we elected governments to govern and now all they do is rule. There is a difference between ruling and governing. Governments today rule and doesn’t give much room for citizen’s concerns to be put on the table.
“That means you have to yell and scream and build up a public wall of noise. Sometimes they listen to that, but they usually don’t, so you end up having to go to the courts or be like Burnaby Mountain and have people marching,” he said.
Federal election will test pipeline policies
Canada appears to be approaching a crossroads. It is not certain that corporations will continue to exercise the same degree of control as they have in recent years. Peart stressed the need for people to vote in the upcoming election.
“The studies are pretty clear – if voter turn-out is low it favors the right. Generally it is the progressive people who are discouraged and don’t vote,” he added.
“Canadians want and expect to have more say, and I think we will witness that voice during the federal election in October,” said Marc Eliesen.
Premiers could pay political price for pushing pipelines
Flanagan said the “Canadian Energy Strategy” originated with Albertan concerns about access to markets. It is important for premiers negotiating an energy strategy to hear that they “must also consider Canada’s contribution to the fight against Climate Change.” They have to realize “it is not politically advantageous for a premier to sign on to an agreement like this.”
Such large segments of the province’s population have made their opposition to the proposed Site C Dam known, that this has become a defining moment of our “democracy.” Premier Christy Clark appears to be willfully ignoring the will of the people. She saw fit to put Vancouver’s $2.5 billion worth of transit improvements to a vote, so doesn’t a $9 Billion dam – whose need has not been demonstrated – merit the same direct democracy? If her government truly believes it is acting in the public’s interest, BC should hold a plebiscite on Site C.
Many voices oppose dam
To a large extent, the people appear to have made their opinion known.
Richard Bullock, who was Chair of the supposedly “independent” BC Agricultural Land Commission until the government fired him so they could put in someone more obedient to their bidding, will be one of the speakers at this year’s “Paddle for the Peace.”
The Metro Vancouver board, which represents the majority of the province’s inhabitants, called for a two year moratorium on this project.
Treaty 8 First Nations are vehemently opposed to this project – having launched 6 legal challenges against it – as it would violate their treaty rights and flood or disrupt over 30,000 acres of their territory.
Ms. Clark still has the option of taking this decision to the people with a plebiscite.
When push comes to shove
The people of BC also have a choice. We can either allow the government to proceed to trample the rights of its’ citizens or, hopefully in a non-violent manner, resist. Though Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, was speaking on behalf of First Nations in his recent press release, his comments apply to the democratic rights of all British Columbians:
[quote]If construction begins on Site C, it will be an obvious message that this government has deliberately ignored constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title, Rights, and Treaty Rights. The BC Government is hoping either Treaty 8 First Nations expend all of their energy and means to defend their territories in the courts or concede their rights for agreements that minimizes any benefits to Treaty 8 First Nations and absolves the government of any and all liabilities. UBCIC will always support Treaty 8 First Nations and if necessary I personally pledge that I will stand with the peoples of Treaty 8 and of the Peace Valley in front of bulldozers and dump trucks to prevent this project from proceeding.[/quote]
Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, a brownish haze clings to the Olympic Peninsula’s shore. There are reports of ash raining from the sky in Vancouver, Salt Spring Island and Nanaimo. The sun was a reddish-brown color in Qualicum Beach. There are severe wildfires along the West Coast, from Alaska to California. There may be more than drought behind the fires: Is this Climate Change?
“Climate change is producing hotter, drier conditions in the American West, which contribute to more large wildfires and longer wildfire seasons,” a 2014 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes.
Some of the statistics:
“The western wildfire season has grown from five months, on average, in the 1970s to seven months today. The annual number of large wildfires has increased by more than 75 percent.
“The expense of fighting wildfires and protecting life and property from harm is nearly four times greater than it was 30 years ago and has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000 (in 2012 dollars).”
What was once called California’s drought now extends from Mexico to Alaska.
So far, this has not translated into fire damage, though statistics on the Cal Fire website show more fires than at any other period during the drought.
Yet, as Cal Fire Captain Kendall Bortisser told NBC news, “The danger is always there. We’re not getting the rains, the fuels are dry, they’re volatile.”
Season starts early in Washington and Oregon
This is the second year of drought for Oregon, and it has now reached Washington state. Seattle, where the LA Times quips, “the sun does not appear before July 5,” has just gone through the hottest June on record.
The National Interagency Fire Center identified Washington and Oregon as two of the three U.S. states where, “the majority of the wildfire activity remains…” Fire season started “three to five weeks ahead of schedule” in the Pacific Northwest and many believe this is going to be the pattern for years to come.
“This is a stress test for 2070. We’re being tested now with the warmth and lack of snowpack that will be typical at the end of the century. How do we get through it?” asked Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
Alaska smashes records
There is a new record in Alaska. The previous one was set in June 2004, when 216 fires consumed 1,153,257.9 acres. On June 29, the folks at Alaska Wildland Fire information posted that 399 fires had already burned some 1,600,000 acres in 2015.
“In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, with average temperatures up by nearly 3°F.” they wrote on Climate Central.
[quote]Alaska’s wildfire season is about 40 percent longer now than it was in the 1950s. The first wildfires start earlier in the year, and the last wildfires are burning longer into the fall. Overall, the wildfire season has increased more than 35 days and is now more than three months long, running from May through early August.
Rising temperatures across Alaska have been concurrent with the rise in the number and size of Alaskan wildfires. Years with the hottest May to July temperatures also tend to be years with the most fires, and the greatest area burned.[/quote]
BC’s firefighting budget already blown
According to the Globe and Mail British Columbia has just gone through the warmest winter and spring since 1948. Sierra Club BC says there hasn’t been a Spring this dry since 1937, and there is no rain in sight. A Level 4 drought rating, the highest on the scale, is in effect for southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The province’s firefighting budget is already spent. This is not a problem in and of itself, because the province deliberately keeps the budget low to avoid trapping money that could be used elsewhere. Yet there are currently 184 active wildfires and 9 evacuation orders in effect. A provincial fire information officer told the Globe and Mail, “The fire activity we’ve been seeing and the fires of note, we usually see that in July-August, not May-June.”
Dr. Michael Brauer, professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said the fires are starting early this year. He hasn’t seen any quite as intense as yesterday, or early this morning, since Burns Bog was on fire a decade ago.
Smoke on the water
Driving home from a family gathering in Victoria on Sunday, I could not help but notice that the haze extended for hundreds of miles up the east coast of Vancouver Island, hiding the mainland from view. It grew stronger as we proceeded North.
There was a faint trace of smoke in the air at Heriot Bay, on Quadra Island. The stench became pervasive on Cortes Island, where it would otherwise be possible to mistake the incoming haze for fog.
There was a faint trace of smoke in the air at Heriot Bay, on Quadra Island.
The smell was much stronger by 4:30, when we returned to Cortes Island. A number of residents have confirmed that the smoke thickened around supper time. Two kayakers said they could no longer see across Squirrel Cove.
Dr Brauer explained yesterday in terms of two events. The Sechelt fire “looked pretty dramatic, but the air quality measurements at ground level were quite low. Then, late in the afternoon, around 4:00, is when things got really bad. I haven’t confirmed this, but it sounds like that is from fires near Pemberton.”
Someone traveling from Victoria to the Lower Mainland said the smoke didn’t seem to get bad until they got onto the ferry. Then it seemed like a thick fog on the ocean’s surface. It persisted as they drove to the Surrey-Langley border.
Haze could persist
As of 5 am on Monday morning, July 6, 2015, Environment Canada was predicting “widespread smoke” for the Lower Mainland, Greater Victoria, eastern Vancouver Island.
Later that morning, air quality advisories were “continued for Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria as well as east and Inland Vancouver Island.”
The wind changed direction again later in the morning morning, and “appears to be clearing things out” of the Lower Mainland.
“There are fires in Washington state that may impact us if we keep having the wind come from this direction. Probably not today, but perhaps by tomorrow. Right now, the Lower Mainland is surrounded by fires on at least three sides, so even though this smoke might clear out we could get hit with some other smoke,” said Dr. Brauer.
Is this climate change?
Dr. Brauer does not believe you can “tie one event to Climate Change. We have evidence over the last twenty years, or so, that the climate has warmed and we are seeing fires start earlier and the fire season last longer.”
Sierra Club BC was much more assertive in their press release today, “With most of the summer still to come and no rain in sight, there have already been 843 fires, and 129,028 hectares burned. Climate and conservation scientists are predicting hotter, dryer conditions for British Columbia over the coming decades, with massive consequences for our forests.”
There are credible experts who believe that, with proper regulation and enforcement, it is possible to have a trustworthy fracking industry. They also say this does not yet exist in North America. Personally, I think the industry is out of control and BC’s government is desperate to get in bed with it.
Last week the government released a report from Ernst & Young (EY), based upon which Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman says, “British Columbians can have confidence they are benefiting from a clean, well regulated natural gas industry.” Does Ernst & Young’s LNG report vindicate BC?
Report ignores climate impacts of fracking
This “Review of British Columbia’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Framework” failed to consider some of the most serious issues of this debate.
The Review does not use the term “Climate Change” and only mentions greenhouse gas emissions as outside “the scope of their project.” The Oil and Gas Regulation “does not place limits on the fumes generated by hydraulic fracturing activities.” There is no discussion of the effect LNG development will have on the province’s emissions targets.
BC would have to build 5 LNG terminals would to achieve the scale Premier Christy Clark talks about. That could add 73 million tonnesof carbon pollution, which Sierra Club BC says is “almost 20% more than B.C.’s entire 2013 reported emissions” (i.e. more than a doubling of the province’s entire current carbon footprint).
Matt Horne, of the Pembina Institute says it might be possible to build one large terminal, or two small ones, and still keep our emissions in check – to which Jens Wieting, of the Sierra Club, responds, “Is it worth the gamble!”
Yet Premier Clark joined the “Under2 MoU,” whose members agree to “reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80% to 95% below the 1990 benchmark by 2050, or achieve a per capita annual emission target of less than 2 metric tons by 2050.”
Secret fracking chemicals not addressed
Another serious limitation of the Review is its failure to discuss the fact industry is allowed not to disclose some of the chemicals it uses by branding them a “trade secret.” This topic was dismissed as falling under Federal jurisdiction.
According to a 2014 study from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, more than 100 billion gallons of waste water have been injected into the province:
[quote]Wastewater is not tracked after disposal” (and) the fate of this massive quantity of wastewater is unknown … We don’t really know what toxins were in the waste water, or how much may have leaked into ground water or surface water. … Wastewater from fracking operations can contain radioactive materials, toxic metals like lead and arsenic, carcinogens like benzene and hexavalent chromium, chemicals used in fracking and high concentrations of salts.[/quote]
According to a spokesperson for the ministry, companies must submit information about the chemicals they use on the FracFocus portal. This includes the “trade name, supplier, purpose, ingredients, Chemical Abstract Service Number, maximum ingredient concentration by additive (% by mass) and maximum ingredient concentration in fluid (% by mass).”
Companies face penalties if they do not use FracFocus, but can withhold information about their trade secrets.
The Review said BC’s process is “comparable or better than other jurisdictions in chemical fluid disclosure.” This is true – the trade secret loophole is used through-out North America.
Abuse of short-term water permits
The Review does not deal with alleged abuses of back to back short-term water approvals. This allows companies to obtain water without going through the level of oversight connected to a water license. According to Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell, more than half the water used for fracking in BC, is obtained this way. In many cases, gas companies are taking water from the same sources that communities rely upon. For example, “Encana draws millions of litres of water from the Kiskatinaw River” – a key source of water for Dawson Creek.
Eoin Madden of the Wilderness Committee says “no one is watching how much water is disappearing” and the losses are “in billions of litres.”
This could become even more of an issue as the West Coast’s drought spreads to BC, but Ernst & Young’s discussion is limited to mentioning that companies using short-term approvals must report their monthly usage.
One of the “opportunities” the Review identified is to “Consider cumulative effects by taking a broader view in planning future development. This approach can better protect against potential cumulative impacts, including environmental outcomes that may not be visible when using a more granular, activity-based process.”
See no evil, hear no evil
Ernst & Young put a high priority on the “development of appropriate requirements related to baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of surface or groundwater quality around production zones.” This “would provide an additional data to support results-based regulatory requirements and to monitor compliance.”
A related recommendation called for “baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of domestic water well quality around production wells.”
Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government, gave a much clearer explanation:
[quote]You might have seen the film Gasland, where folks will turn on their taps and light the water on fire because of methane contamination, but unless operators have actually done pretesting of this water you really can’t say fracking did it. You might be absolutely sure, but you don’t have the scientific evidence.[/quote]
A spokesperson from the Oil and Gas Commission said he was only aware of one alleged water contamination incident, from the Hudson’s Hope area in 2012, and “the BC Oil and Gas Commission’s Compliance & Enforcement Branch which found no basis to indicate that hydraulic fracturing that had occurred in the area had any bearing on the water quality in the wells.” To which Calvin Sanborn, Legal Director the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, responded, “The politicians will tell you there are no confirmed cases of water contamination. That’s because they haven’t hired anyone to look.”
Shaking all over
One area where BC has done well is monitoring seismic activity. The report “Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin”(2012) documents 272 “events” that “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults” between April 2009 and December 2011. Though most were too small to feel, the biggest was 3.8 on the richter scale. The report added that there were another 8,000 “high-volume hydraulic fracturing completions…with no associated anomalous seismicity.”
If this makes you nervous, consider that more than 400 oil and gas related tremors have been recorded in Alberta between 1985 and 2010, and fifteen of them had a magnitude greater than 3.5. There was a 4.4 seismic event at Fox Creek earlier this year.
Gail Atkinson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Induced Seismicity Hazards at Ontario’s Western University, observed, “the magnitudes have been increasing every year.”
Oklahoma breaking seismic records
Similar observations have been made in Oklahoma, where earthquakes were not common prior to 2009. A record of 222 quakes was set in 2013 and broken in the first four months of the next year. The tally was close to 500 by the time 2014 was over and now that record has been broken. There were 468 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater during the first four months of 2015. The state’s energy regulator called it a game changer when another 35 quakes of 3.0 or higher struck in the week of June 17 to 24. There were another 10 in the next three days.
The industry keeps telling us there is no cause for concern, these are are all minor events that cause no damage, but a study from the University of Oklahoma suggests otherwise. The state’s largest ever earthquake was a 5.6 “event” that struck Prague on November 6, 2011. Pavement buckled, 2 people were injured, and 14 homes were destroyed. Seismologist Katie Keranen believed it was caused by injection wells used by the oil and gas industry.
This was not a view shared by Oklahoma’s official seismologist, the Corporation Commission or the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (a trade group that lobbies for the interests of oil and gas producers).
Ernst & Young gives BC fracking its stamp of approval
After reviewing British Columbia’s reports of seismic events, Ernst and Young recommended more data be collected so that the Commission could “better understand the behavior of hydraulic fracturing indifferent formations.”
Ernst & Young added, “None of the opportunities that we identified in the three categories constitute major failings of the regulatory framework, nor do we believe that there are any significant sources of risk that remain untouched by regulation.”
The report was published on March 3 and the provincial government waited until June 18 before releasing it to the public.
In the accompanying press release, Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development, boasted:
[quote]This independent report confirms what we’ve been saying for years – British Columbia has a robust regulatory framework governing hydraulic fracturing. In fact, this is the second recent impartial review to find B.C. has a strong regulatory framework. British Columbians can have confidence they are benefiting from a clean, well regulated natural gas industry.[/quote]
I wonder how much the government paid Ernst & Young for this “independent” report?
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of late morning on June 15, the Coast Guard had revised the estimate to 500-5,000 litres of diesel spilled
Within hours of Vancouver’s second oil spill of the year, BC Environment Minister Mary Polak was reassuring the public that the province will move ahead on a “world-leading” spill response team.
1,000 litres of diesel
An estimated 1,000 litres of diesel spilled into the area around Fishermen’s Wharf late Sunday night. The spill volume The accident was reported at 10:30 p.m. and, because the federal government closed Kitsilano Coast Guard station, clean-up did not start for another five hours. Polak said she “could not speculate” about the difference still having a base in Vancouver would have made. Luckily it was diesel, which stays on the surface and is easy to clean-up.
“The spill appears to have received an efficient and effective response,” said Pollack.
Yet she acknowledged that the present spill response is “outdated” and economic development “cannot be at the expense of our environment.”
Not ready for a major spill
The Minister added:
[quote]Our experience with smaller spills and near misses shows the province is not prepared for a major spill. Our goal is to have a world-leading spill regime in place and we recognize we are not there yet.[/quote]
She denied that this was in response to the proposed Northern Gateway or Kinder Morgan pipeline projects, saying it was devised after years of conversations with local government, First Nations and industry.
“The vast majority of incidents to which we respond, as a ministry, have nothing to do with the oil and gas industry and everything to do with smaller types of industry, with the support of hazardous materials that support other industries,”said Polak.
The ingredients of BC’s new land-based spill response include:
A provincially certified, industry-funded Preparedness and Response Organization (PRO) to make sure trained people are ready to immediately respond to any spill, with appropriate equipment and in a co-ordinated way
New legislative and regulatory requirements for spill preparedness, response and recovery
Geographically based planning and response that will see active participation by First Nations, first responders and local communities
Steps To Come
The funding and leadership of this project is to come from industry.
If the Kinder Morgan pipeline project goes forward, this program will work in conjunction with their spill response program.
Legislation empowering the government to proceed will probably be forthcoming during the Spring of 2016.
“This won’t happen overnight, but we are targeting 2017 to begin implementing these new requirement,” said Polak.
UPDATE: Following complaints that the CEAA email system for public comments on the project has been out of commission throughout the 20-day comment period, the window for feedback has been extended until June 24
Building a major LNG terminal in Delta would have a big impact on the mouth of the Fraser River. The diagram at the top of this page shows how LNG tankers would come into, and leave, the proposed WesPack Tilbury Marine Jetty. Even with the help of tugboats, they need most of the Fraser River’s width to turn around.
The National Energy Board has already granted an export license for a facility that could bring up to 120 LNG tankers and 90 LNG barges to this terminal every year. In the US, LNG proponents need to assess potential hazards all along LNG tanker routes, but the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is considering waiving an environmental assessment. The public comment period on this project is almost over – citizens have two days left to ask for an environmental review.
The above map, from Real LNG Hearings.com, shows the extent of the hazard area if there was an explosion. Note the red line, which goes out the Fraser and along the tanker route. This is a band 500 meters wide depicting: “extreme hazard of combustion and thermal damage from pool fire if evaporating LNG is ignited. Cryogenic burns and structural damage from exposure to supercooled LNG. Asphyxiation hazard for those exposed to expanding LNG vapor plume.” Though the degree of danger is less, there could be additional explosions anywhere within the blue zone if the LNG vapour cloud makes contact with a source of ignition.
Said Kevin Washbrook for Voters Taking Action on Climate Change:
[quote]Whether we’re LNG supporters or not, we probably all agree that major projects like this need careful review. However in this case public notification has been negligible, the comment period is absurdly short, and fundamentally important questions — like whether it makes any sense to build a LNG terminal on a narrow, heavily trafficked river — haven’t even been asked.[/quote]
Citizens can write to federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq via the Real LNG Hearings website, to require a proper level of LNG risk assessment is done in BC.
More detailed information available here:
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website
After five years of research, the EPA’s painfully inadequate fracking assessment has been released. “It’s a bit underwhelming,” said Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government. Dr Allan Hoffman, a retired senior analyst with the Department of Energy, referred to the draft report as “disappointing.” They were referring to the extent that industry was allowed to thwart the EPA investigation.
[quote]My general reaction is ‘why bother?’ I have a lot of compassion for EPA, they must have really struggled with this one, but I don’t feel like they produced a very useful report. There is nothing new. It is accurate as far as I could tell. They did review some records, but then they put in all these caveats about how limited the data really was. It is very clear they probably didn’t get co-operation from the industry. That’s a very bad sign in my opinion.[/quote]
The EPA tried to get companies to monitor their wells. For effective test results, they need to test the water before before, during and after drilling.
Industry won’t play ball
“Most companies flat-out refused to comply. So this report is more of a literature review. It is very thorough, in terms of looking at the available data, but limited because they still can’t say how widespread these impacts are when there so few companies that are willing to let the EPA study them,” said Amanda Frank.
She added, “They admit in the conclusion that, based on the number of wells that we know of and based on the number of incidents that we know of, water contamination is not a widespread issue. But the next sentence basically says there is so much data missing that it is hard to make that claim.”
Hoffman recently co-authored a report on the impact hydraulic fracturing has on water. He shares the impression that the number of incidents is small, but added, “We really don’t know.”
“If industry is not going to co-operate on this, then they are not to be trusted. They have plenty of incentive to hide accidents, spills and all that kind of stuff. That’s what people do, they protect their self interest.”
He believes the number of incidents can be brought under control, but suspects that it may take a major accident for the United States to adopt strong enough regulations and enforcement.
In the meantime, there are reports of water contamination but it is difficult to prove the cause was fracking without proper testing. If company’s are allowed to withhold the identity of the chemicals they use, you don’t even know what to test for.
Some areas hit harder by water withdrawals
There have been large water withdrawals in areas with low water availability. Though the EPA reported the national average was only 1%, in some counties the number was actually 50%.
(Trent Orr, an attorney with Earthjustice, recently informed the ECOreport that much of California’s fracking takes place in Kern county, one of the area’s most affected by the drought.)
Industry takes over
In some states, the industry appears to have virtually taken over. In response to communities that have passed fracking bans, both Texas and Oklahoma have passed legislation overruling local control.
“Is fracking going to be safe? Nothing is. There are risks with everything. Getting into my car and driving to work is not ‘safe.’ Industry needs to recognize this and stop trying to say how safe and wonderful it is. They need to acknowledge there are risks. Then we need to ask ourselves, are these risks worth it?” said Frank.
Many hoped the EPA report would help clarify matters.
“The big disappointment is not so much in terms of the report’s scope, as that the conclusions are not widespread. To really fix the problems with fracking, you need to require baseline testing. If we were to require that in every well across the country, we would have a much better sense of how widespread this problem is,” said Frank.