A highly anticipated government report states residents of B.C.’s northeast have little to fear from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other oil and gas operations that have intensified in recent years.
Today (March 26), the B.C. Ministry of Health made public the results of a comprehensive study on the possible human-health impacts of those activities. Health Minister Terry Lake delivered the government's findings in a teleconference.
“After careful review and analysis, the study found that the risks to human health from the emissions from oil and gas activities in the northeast remain low,” he said.
“The report does make several recommendations, mostly around emergency planning, increased monitoring, and current levels of date collection and surveillance,” Lake continued. “We’ve shared these recommendations and findings with the ministries or organizations that are responsible, and will be following up to ensure that they are followed and implemented.”
A PowerPoint presentation released to media states the study found B.C.’s “existing framework is extensive and broadly protective of health,” and that B.C. regulations are “comparable to the measures that have been adopted in other jurisdictions and in line with applicable best management practices.”
The report covers two assessment scenarios. The first focuses on air emissions from gas processing plants and production facilities. The second looks at those operations plus related industries, transportation, and community sources of air pollution.
Among recommendations included in the report is a suggestion the government conduct additional reviews of groundwater and surface water interactions.
The B.C. Ministry of Health’s findings stand in contrast to those of a similar study that examined fracking in New York State.
In December 2014, the New York Times described that report as “concluding that the method posed inestimable public-health risks”.
That document's release prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce his administration would implement an outright ban on fracking “because of concerns over health”.
Following today’s briefing on operations in B.C.’s northeast, Lake was asked what the report says about health risks specifically associated with fracking.
“I think the main thing that this study shows is the regulatory regime in British Columbia is very robust very rigorous,” he replied. “This practice has been ongoing for decades here in British Columbia. And of course the geology we have in British Columbia is quite different than it is in other parts of North America where this has been more of a concern.”
The Ministry of Health received the report from Intrinsik Environmental Sciences Inc. in November 2014. In the months that followed, the Liberal government was repeatedly accused of dragging its feet on the document's release to the public. Independent MLA Vicki Huntington, for example, complained a cover up was taking place.
“Northern British Columbians want to know whether the current regulation of the oil and gas industry does or does not protect their health,” she said in the legislature. “I want to see whether the data show if the public concern is justified.”
Fracking, a process whereby chemicals are injected deep into the ground to unlock shale deposits of natural gas, has remained the subject of intense controversy since 2011 when a documentary called Gasland . The Oscar-nominated film suggested the practice could be linked groundwater contamination that resulted in people's tap water becoming flammable. In addition, fracking in Alberta, for example, is also under review for purportedly causing earthquakes.