Should fracking be banned near hydro dams in B.C.?

Calling on the provincial government to ban natural gas company fracking operations near all hydro dams.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – along with the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club B.C. and Wilderness Committee – is calling on the provincial government to ban natural gas company fracking operations near all hydro dams.

The concern is that earthquakes triggered by such operations could endanger human life.

The call comes in the wake of documents released by B.C. Hydro in response to a Freedom of Information request by CCPA. The documents show that since 2009, dam safety officials with B.C. Hydro have been concerned that fracking could trigger earthquakes that were “greater than the original design criteria” for its Peace Canyon dam.

Since then, officials with B.C. Hydro and the provincial Oil and Gas Commission have met to discuss placing limits on fracking operations near B.C. Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams – the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon facilities – and the location of an approved third dam on the river, the $9-billion Site C dam.

“We are very concerned that discussions between B.C. Hydro and the Oil and Gas Commission have been in secret,” said Ana Simeon, Peace Valley campaigner for the Sierra Club B.C. “First Nations and landowners in the Peace River valley who stand to lose the most have not been properly consulted and have had little say on what constitutes safe practices.”

Despite the talks, CCPA says no firm regulatory commitment has been made to ban fracking near some of B.C.’s biggest hydro dams, despite the fact that earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 4.6 have been triggered by fracking operations in the Peace River region.

B.C. Hydro responded with a statement last week, saying there has never been any fracking activity within five kilometres of B.C. Hydro’s dams.

“Our dams are built to withstand much larger ground motions associated with higher magnitude events that are much longer in duration than fracking.”

B.C. Hydro also stated the discussions between them and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission have been “precautionary in nature” to ensure appropriate operational and maintenance activities if required in the future.

“Our highest responsibility is public safety; our dam safety program meets the highest standards including 24/7 instrumentation monitoring, weekly inspections, bi-annual engineering reports and regular expert reviews of all our dams by international, independent experts.”

In addition, B.C. Hydro stated fracking by itself cannot generate large magnitude earthquakes.

A study published earlier this year in the journal ‘Seismological Research Letters’ confirmed the link between fracking and induced earthquakes recorded in Northeast B.C. According to The Globe and Mail, the number of earthquakes in Northeast B.C. jumped from about 20 a year in 2002 to nearly 200 a year by 2011. The study confirmed that nearly all the region’s overall seismicity of magnitude three or larger has been induced by human activity – more than 60 per cent of these quakes are linked to fracking, about 30 to 35 per cent come from wastewater disposal wells, and only five to 10 per cent of the earthquakes have a natural tectonic origin.