VANCOUVER—BC’s Oil and Gas Commission withheld a report from the public for four years showing that 900 gas wells could be leaking methane - a finding that highlights why a public inquiry into oil and gas industry fracking operations is needed.
The Commission (OGC) published the December 2013 report on its website on November 20 after a copy of the document was leaked.
The document shows that nearly 50 fracked gas wells were leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and that up to 900 gas wells could be leaking and potentially contaminating groundwater sources.
“It is deeply troubling that BC’s energy industry regulator kept this report secret. Why did it not tell the public? Why, as the OGC now alleges, did it also not share the report with Cabinet ministers who have responsibility for the energy industry? We need answers and a full public inquiry is the best way to get them,” says Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The suppressed OGC report notes that the estimate of 900 leaking gas wells applies only to a portion of northeast BC where fracking companies operate and that escaping gas could leak into “potable water aquifers and cause groundwater contamination.”
The report, by unnamed OGC staff, was informed by field studies where agency staff visually identified gas bubbling up through standing water at gas well sites, file reviews and field visits to sites where gas migration had previously been reported to the OGC.
News of the suppressed report marks the second time this year that serious questions have been raised about the OGC’s lax regulation of fossil fuel companies. Earlier, a CCPA investigation revealed how the OGC allowed dozens of unlicensed fracking dams to be built without requiring the fossil fuel companies that built them to obtain required water licenses and to submit dam engineering specifications to provincial dam safety officials.
In the spring, the David Suzuki Foundation published research showing that 118,000 tonnes of methane was being released into the atmosphere annually at BC gas wells and other energy sector facilities. The release of that methane, which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is equivalent to adding two million vehicles to the road.
The CCPA, Suzuki Foundation and 16 other organizations have jointly called on the provincial government to launch a public inquiry to investigate all aspects of fracking industry operations in BC, including impacts on human health and safety.
“A 2012 study demonstrated increased incidences of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in people living in northeastern BC, and a 2017 study showed high levels of benzene in pregnant women living in that region. This increases the risk of leukemia in their children. How much longer will we continue to compromise the health of our citizens by allowing the fracking industry to proliferate?” says Larry Barzelai, head of the BC chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, another of the organizations calling for a public inquiry.
The call for a public inquiry coincides with BC’s fracking industry gearing up for more intensive gas drilling, particularly in the Montney Basin (an area not covered by the suppressed OGC report).
The Montney Basin is a 130,000-square-kilometre football-shaped diagonal stretching from northeast BC into northwest Alberta and methane gas drilling there is coming under increased scrutiny. In 2015, Progress Energy triggered a 4.6 magnitude earthquake felt 180 kilometres away when the company pressure-pumped the equivalent of 64 Olympic swimming pools worth of water underground during a fracking operation at a methane gas well.
The groups calling for a public inquiry believe that the government’s commitment to appoint a “scientific panel to review” fracking practices in BC is insufficient and will fail to deal with key issues.
“Only with a full, adequately funded, independent public inquiry where witnesses testify under oath do we believe British Columbians will get the information they need. That includes information on why the OGC has failed to effectively regulate the industry and protect the public interest and why it has withheld key information from the public,” says Parfitt.
The following groups support the call for a public inquiry into fracking in BC:
BC Teachers' Federation
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Corporate Mapping Project
Council of Canadians
David Suzuki Foundation
Douglas Channel Watch
Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition
Keepers of the Water
My Sea to Sky
Public Health Association of BC
Saanich Inlet Network
Sierra Club BC
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
West Coast Environmental Law