Several of the groups that backed the Green Party and the New Democrats (NDP) in the 2017 spring provincial election in British Columbia are now looking to cash in their IOUs. A coalition of 17 environmental, First Nations and community groups has issued a call to the governing NDP and its Green Party supporters to go beyond the NDP’s promise to review the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry and instead hold a full-scale public inquiry into the practice.
As part of its election platform, the NDP promised to appoint a scientific panel to look into fracking to ensure that gas is produced safely and that the environment is protected.
Not good enough, say advocacy groups ranging from the Council of Canadians to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. They say recent developments, such as escalating water use, inadequate consultation with First Nations, unauthorized dam-building and a fracking-induced 4.6 magnitude earthquake (the largest of its kind on record) point to a need for a full public inquiry.
Industry has denied some of these claims, such as the charge of widespread unauthorized dam-building. Dan Allan, president of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR), tells EcoLog News that large-scale fracking in northeastern British Columbia is still a relatively recent phenomenon and the fracking industry is complying with legal requirements and responding quickly and responsibly to issues as they emerge. The facts on the ground show no need for a lengthy, costly public inquiry, he says.
“The industry has been doing this for 10 years without any really significant issues,” says Allan.
Those calling for the inquiry see things differently. Dr. Larry Barzelai, head of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, cites research showing an increase in premature births, asthma, and congenital heart defects in people who live close to U.S. fracking operations. Ian Bruce, director of Science and Policy at the David Suzuki Foundation, says methane emissions from fracking operations are 2.5 times higher than what industry or governments report.
But Allan says the industry has acted responsibly when unexpected developments have emerged. For instance, on the issue of induced seismicity in northeastern British Columbia — fracking-induced earthquakes — he says the industry responded quickly by convening scientific panels and conducting research to understand why it was happening and how to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.
“What everybody did to understand it and move forward was just textbook in doing things the right way,” says Allan. That doesn’t mean fracking-induced earthquakes won’t ever happen again. But industry and regulators now have measures in place that make them far less likely.
Allan believes education, not inquiries, is the answer to the pushback being felt by the fracking industry. He says there’s too much misinformation out there. CSUR has begun an outreach campaign to university campuses to explain what the industry is doing, focussing on water use and induced seismicity.
“People have to take a second and try to learn,” he says.