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BC Water Act not likely to limit fracking in the province

The Council of Canadians has promoted water justice and actively opposed fracking in British Columbia.

Today, the Globe and Mail reports on some staggering figures:

  • “More than seven billion litres of water were used for fracking in B.C. last year. If the government’s liquefied natural gas sector takes off, the water needed to get shale gas out of the ground in the northeast corner of the province will likely increase by 500 per cent, or more.”

  • “The water taken out of the (Fort Nelson First Nation’s) territory has already increased 12-fold in the past two years. …(And now) Nexen Inc. (wants a) licence to divert water from North Tsea Lake, north of Fort Nelson – up to 2.5 billion litres per year. The company stores the water for fracking.”

On the horizon is a new Water Act in British Columbia.

“(The province’s) Environment Minister Mary Polak is planning to bring in the new Water Sustainability Act in the spring, applying some regulation to the allocation of water rights. She said in an interview this should address some of the fears around fracking. Water used for fracking is currently sourced from both surface and groundwater – the latter source is largely unregulated. The act would require that environmental flows be considered by decision-makers before authorizing water use.”

But at this point, there are outstanding and serious concerns:

  • “(The new Water Act) is not to say that the government would shut off the taps (for fracking). …(The new law) would for the first time in B.C. impose fees for the use of groundwater and allow for government to restrict water use in times of scarcity. But it’s not likely to rein in the practise of hydraulic fracturing, which is critical to the development of (the province’s liquefied natural gas sector).”

  • There doesn’t appear to be a fundamental respect for Treaty rights. “The Fort Nelson First Nation says (the water withdrawals are) in the core of their traditional territory and it infringes on their treaty rights, which grant them the right to hunt and fish as they did before they signed their treaty in 1899.”

The Council of Canadians has called on BC Premier Christy Clark and Environment Minister Mary Polak to ensure that the new Water Sustainability Act:

  • recognizes water as a human right

  • reaffirms water as a public trust that belongs to people and cannot be privately owned or controlled

  • creates an approval process for groundwater withdrawals that includes public consultation, incorporates community input into the final decision, and respects a community’s right to say “no” to projects that abuse or pollute water

  • includes strict pollution controls, strong conservation regulations and stringent monitoring

  • ensures a process to revoke permits where industries are polluting or abusing water

  • charges industry proper fees for their use of raw and municipal water takings

  • recognize Indigenous title and jurisdiction to watersheds as well as secure free, prior and informed consent protocols within the Water Act alongside policies to monitor and sustain groundwater.

But there is every reason to be cautious about what the provincial government will present in the spring-time. “Lana Lowe, the director of the Fort Nelson First Nation’s department of land and resources, has reviewed the proposed changes to water regulations… ‘This new Water Act looks like they are going to make it easier for companies to get what they want for shale gas. We are getting in front of that, and it is a really tough position to be in.'”

Further reading
ACTION ALERT: Protect B.C.’s water from corporate freeloaders
Council calls for public inquiry on fracking in BC
Clark’s win in BC means more fracking
Fort Nelson First Nation ‘extremely concerned’ about massive water use for fracking
Adrangi on ‘building resistance’ tour
Vancouver chapter hosts forum on fracking and water
Comox Valley chapter opposes fracking