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NEWS: Horn River fracking and water use

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail reported that energy giant EnCana Corp. and its partner Apache Corp. are drawing water from a sour water aquifer – undrinkable because it is salty and laced with hydrogen sulphide – to address the copious amounts of fresh water it needs for fracking operations in British Columbia’s Peace River region. The newspaper reports, “To date, EnCana has pumped more than 25 million barrels of water out of the Debolt formation – a layer of porous rock, 70 metres thick, far below the surface in the Horn River basin that lies north of Fort Nelson.”

The Horn River Formation is in north-eastern British Columbia and extends to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. More than 500 trillion cubic feet of gas is in this formation, considered one of the top gas reserves in North America.

“Critics (say) the Debolt water project is so new and untested, it is impossible to know what the long-term impact may be. ‘That has the potential to partially address concerns around water usage, but the government is still pushing a massive ramp-up of fracking without us knowing the cumulative impacts on water or health,’ said George Heyman of the Sierra Club of B.C. …As the independent MLA for Cariboo North, Bob Simpson has been pushing for a review of fracking. He said the 100,000 barrels of Debolt water extracted every day is just a drop in the bucket. ‘What I don’t like about this is the suggestion that they are somehow resolving the fresh-water situation. You are talking about a miniscule amount of what the industry is using,’ he said. Once it has been used in fracking, the Debolt water is injected back into the ground, into containers made of steel and concrete. But Mr. Simpson said he is still uneasy. ‘We don’t know the hydrological and geological implications of drawing the saline aquifer down. We may be creating a different kind of problem.'”

In early-November, the Vancouver Sun reported, “(CCPA researcher Ben) Parfitt challenges the province’s decision to give gas producers virtually unimpeded access to the water, with special privileges to extract it from surface and underground reserves, including lakes, rivers, hydroelectric reservoirs and aquifers, with only nominal scrutiny. All other water users in the province — including pulp and paper mills, farmers, public utilities and municipalities — need approval from the B.C. water stewardship branch.”

This week’s Globe and Mail article adds, “British Columbia is poised to launch a new liquefied natural-gas industry, and the development of the Montenay and Horn River gas plays in the northeast corner of the province are key to that ambition. But environmentalists are calling for a moratorium on new developments in B.C. until water safety and other health concerns are addressed – a demand the provincial government has dismissed.” In May, the Globe and Mail reported that the Council of Canadians, the Sierra Club of BC, the Wilderness Committee, the BC Tap Water Alliance and others called for a provincial public inquiry on fracking.

The Council of Canadians opposes fracking because of its high water use, its high carbon emissions, its impacts on human health, the disruption it causes to wildlife, and the danger it poses to groundwater and local drinking water. We are calling for a country-wide stop to fracking operations.