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UPDATE: Vancouver chapter sponsors Parfitt talk on fracking, March 16

Williston Lake Reservoir

Williston Lake Reservoir

Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He will be speaking on water use in British Columbia’s rapidly expanding shale gas industry at the Vancouver Public Library on March 16, at a forum sponsored by the Vancouver chapter of the Council of Canadians. He recently wrote in the Tyee.ca that, “If (the Calgary-based companies) Talisman and Canbriam get their way, they could soon withdraw a combined 7.3 billion litres of water annually out of the (Williston Lake) reservoir (in the Northern Interior of British Columbia for their fracking operations)…”

He highlights, “The dearth of information on the Talisman and Canbriam proposals might not be of such a concern if it were the exception to the rule. But in numerous instances important decisions on water allocations are being made without the public even being told that applications have been filed, let alone being provided an opportunity to review and comment on the proposals.”

TEMPORARY AND LONGER-TERM WATER LICENSES: “To date, natural gas companies have received the bulk of their water through temporary permits issued by the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC). The industry has a unique advantage over all other water users in the province in that it can get water from its own dedicated regulator. All other water users, without exception, must obtain their water from provincial water stewardship officials (now in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations). …Even greater concerns surround longer-term water licences, like those sought by Canbriam and Talisman, because unlike temporary water use permits, which have a term of no more than one year, licences can lock in rights of access to public water supplies for years if not decades to come. The OGC cannot issue licences. The authority to do so remains with provincial water stewardship officials.”

LACK OF CONSULTATION WITH FIRST NATIONS: “The OGC, which issues hundreds of temporary water use permits to energy companies each year, has routinely elected not to forward energy company water application to First Nations prior to granting companies access to water. …This clearly violates the government’s legal duty to consult with First Nations, but also flies in the face of agreements signed by the OGC and First Nations in 2006, in which the province committed to consult with First Nations before oil and gas activities occurred that could ‘adversely impact’ their constitutionally protected rights. …Near the community of Hudson’s Hope, members of the West Moberly First Nations have only now — five months after Talisman submitted its proposal — received the (company’s) application and related documents, and only then after formally requesting them from the provincial government. To date, the general public has received nothing. …Letters (in the package of information received by the West Moberly First Nations) indicate that the energy regulator, not the water regulator, will spearhead the (consultation) process, which will address both the water licence application (requiring water stewardship approval) and the pipeline proposal, which the OGC must approve.”

WATER USE FOR FRACKING TO INCREASE: “Water use by…companies is poised to explode, particularly if gas prices climb. Just one company involved in today’s water-intensive fracking operations, Calgary-based Apache Canada, says it could drill 3,000 gas wells in northern B.C. Based on Apache’s world record for water use at a single multiple-well gas pad last winter at Two Island Lake northeast of Fort Nelson, the amount of water needed to frack all of Apache’s wells is estimated to be between 183 million cubic metres (73,200 Olympic swimming pools) and 300 million cubic metres (120,000 Olympic swimming pools); water that would be permanently removed from the hydrological cycle. Once again, this permanent removal of water from public waterways is occurring in the complete absence of public input.”

Parfitt concludes, “Given the severe drought in one of the two major shale gas zones in northeast B.C. last year, it’s time for the secrecy to end. First Nations communities and non-First Nations communities alike deserve to know important facts about who proposes to use B.C.’s water, where the water will come from, and how it will be used. We deserve this and more, well before decisions are made that will have potentially irreversible consequences for our land and water resources in future years.”

His commentary can be read at http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/15/OurWaterSuckedAway/.