The global controversy around fracking for natural gas has come to B.C. This destructive new way of extracting shale gas, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is threatening B.C.’s water, human health, and the climate.
Many countries have already banned or restricted this extraction technique. Here in B.C., however, the provincial government’s response has thus far been woefully inadequate.
The process of fracking pumps water laden with toxic chemicals down into the earth to fracture shale bedrock and release natural gas. Gas companies like Talisman Energy are using this process to access deposits of gas that they have been unable to reach, opening up huge tracts of B.C.’s wilderness for destruction and poisoning vast amounts of fresh water.
In my travels to the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C., I have seen firsthand some of the dangerous impacts of fracking. I stood on the banks of the giant Williston Reservoir—behind the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams, which generate almost half of the province’s electricity—and saw a number of big pipelines snaking out of its waters. Dozens of liquid transport trucks were lined up, filling up with tens of thousands of litres of fresh water.
These particular trucks were headed for the so-called Montney Shale Play, one of the biggest shale gas reserves in the province. Along the back roads from the reservoir to Montney, I saw the clear-cuts, contaminated water ponds, toxic gas flaring, and myriad pipelines that come with shale gas development.
Every year companies like Talisman and Encana withdraw tens of millions of cubic metres of fresh water from our streams, rivers, and lakes to use in the fracking process. Just recently the province of B.C. approved a proposal by Talisman to pump 10,000 cubic metres of water every day for 20 years out of the Williston Reservoir.
The potential of exposure to water contamination or of a deadly sour gas leak is a daily reality for people living next to natural gas extraction. They never know what they are breathing in, or if their water has been contaminated. And they never know when they might have to evacuate due to an accident.
Over 30 workers in B.C. and Alberta have died from exposure to sour gas in the last 30 years. Gas leaks from failed pipelines and faulty well sites have resulted in over 70 potentially hazardous sour-gas leaks in the Northeast during the past five years.
Globally the serious impacts of fracking have also been well documented. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, just one month after fracking operations showed up, residents’ tap water started to turned brown, and some animals started to lose their hair. Children would get sick from showering in the poisoned water, which was found to have high levels of methane.
In Sublette County, Wyoming, in an area near 6,000 fracking sites, well-water tested was found to have traces of cancer-causing benzene—one of the many chemicals that fracking companies use. And, right next door to B.C., in Alberta, residents have been able to light their tap water on fire because of methane contamination from fracking.
All over the world, governments are taking real action to address and curtail the fracking industry. Quebec has brought in a moratorium. So has France and U.S. states like New Jersey. Even Texas legislators are talking about taking action.
Shamefully, B.C. lags far behind, with fracking expanding at an alarming rate.
Earlier this month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced moves which she claims will make the growing practice of fracking more “open and transparent”. The new measures, which include a government online registry, were announced at the Oil and Gas Conference in Fort Nelson and were reportedly developed in consultation with industry.
The B.C. government’s online registry would, as of January 2012, make publicly available the location of fracking operations and a voluntary system of disclosing chemical usage.
While having fracking companies disclose chemical additives in water is a good first step, the B.C. government’s plan does not go nearly far enough. British Columbia continues to trail far behind other jurisdictions when it comes to taking the dangers of fracking seriously.
We need to get up to catch with the rest of the world, and even show leadership. Ultimately, we must move to stop all together the dangerous practice of fracking.
Tria Donaldson is the Pacific coast campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. As a youth climate activist, she has been involved with the goBeyond project, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.