Public inquiry needed to properly investigate deep social and environmental harms of fracking
A promised “review” of natural gas industry fracking operations should be broadened to a full Public Inquiry that examines all aspects of the dangerous gas extraction technique, says a coalition of community, First Nation and environmental organizations.
The call on the new BC government is to broaden a promise first made by the NDP during the lead-up to the spring provincial election, and comes on the heels of new revelations about the fracking process, including:
- Escalating water usage by fracking companies.
- Poor or misleading consultations with First Nations.
- Widespread industry non-compliance with relevant provincial water laws through the construction of dozens of unlicensed dams.
- Record-setting induced earthquakes at BC fracking operations.
“We believe that the NDP’s campaign promise to appoint a scientific panel to review fracking won’t be enough to fully address the true risks of deploying this brute-force technology throughout northeast BC. Current realities dictate that we need a wide-ranging, public inquiry,” says Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one of 17 groups making today’s call.
The groups say a comprehensive examination of fracking is essential and that a broad formal Public Inquiry or Commission of Inquiry is necessary to investigate all the risks and harms associated with it. The Inquiry must address whether or not provincial agencies adequately oversee fracking operations, ensuring that companies comply with existing laws and regulations, safeguard public health, and protect the environment. The Inquiry must have powers and sufficient funds to compel legal testimony, commission professional research, and hold public hearings across BC.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves pumping large volumes of water under intense pressure below ground to free gas trapped in tight rock formations.
In August 2015 a 4.6 magnitude earthquake — the largest ever induced by a fracking operation — occurred in northeast BC when 422 million gallons of water was pumped underground at one gas well. The amount of water used was more than eight times greater than that used in the average fracking operation in the United States.
Recently, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported on a major regulatory breakdown as fracking companies rushed to build dozens of unlicensed dams for use in their water-intensive fracking operations in northeast BC.
“We are deeply troubled that this dam-building free-for-all occurred on First Nation lands, that First Nations were not fully consulted about the true size and extent of these dams, and that our Indigenous Title, Rights and Treaty rights are still completely ignored or denied. There are still no substantive or meaningful opportunities to fully participate in decisions around how water resources are managed in our respective territories,” says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “We need a credible, strong, Independent Inquiry to get to the bottom of this.”
“Right now, we know that British Columbians are not getting accurate and transparent information about the real environmental damages from oil and gas activities,” said Ian Bruce, Director of Science and Policy at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Our peer-reviewed research shows that methane pollution from B.C.’s oil and gas sector, mainly fracked gas, is at least 2.5 times larger than what both industry and the B.C. government report."
"We are calling on the B.C. government to make it a priority to get this pollution problem under control by enacting proper oversight and regulations and ensure industry is responsible for being part of the solution.”
"Recent studies have demonstrated an increase in premature births, asthma, and congenital heart defects in people who live close to U.S. fracking operations,” says Dr. Larry Barzelai, head of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “Can we be assured that the same complications will not occur in B.C.? We think that a properly funded Public Inquiry, with a comprehensive and strong mandate, is needed to answer critical questions such as these."
Among the questions the groups say a Public Inquiry on fracking should address are:
- Have natural gas companies and provincial regulators appropriately consulted with First Nations about the ongoing cumulative impacts of fracking industry activities on their traditional lands, 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?
- What risks does fracking pose to the environment and water resources in particular?
- What threats does fracking pose to critical infrastructure?
- How much more will BC’s greenhouse gas emissions climb as a result of methane emissions if more gas is drilled and fracked?
- Does BC’s Oil and Gas Commission adequately monitor the fracking industry, ensuring that it complies with all relevant laws? Is it transparent and does it keep the public fully informed?
- The previous government ignored a call for such an inquiry in 2011.
The organizations jointly issuing this release:
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC Office
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
David Suzuki Foundation
West Coast Environmental Law
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
Sierra Club BC
Saanich Inlet Network
Public Health Association of BC
My Sea to Sky
Keepers of the Water
Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition
Douglas Channel Watch
Council of Canadians
Corporate Mapping Project
BC Tap Water Alliance