Blog Post #6 – Water and oil & gas development

Water use in the oil and gas industry is another common theme in the comments we’ve received to date.  The proposed Water Sustainability Act would apply to the oil and gas industry just like any other sector.  Currently, authorizations for surface water used by the oil and gas sector are made through an Approval for short-term water use (up to 24 months) or under a Water Licence for longer-term uses.

Provisions in the new WSA that would affect the oil and gas sector include the following:

  • Groundwater regulation – water used for oil and gas operations including hydraulic fracturing would require an authorization under the new Act, regardless of whether the water is surface or groundwater. An exemption is being considered for deep saline groundwater—water that is typically unsuitable for drinking and irrigation, but could be viable for some commercial purposes.
  • Decision-makers will be required to consider environmental flows for all new Approvals and Licences.
  • Water objectives and water sustainability plans proposed under the Act would apply and may establish specific requirements or objectives for an area.
  • Measuring and reporting on water use will be required for all large users including the oil and gas sector.  The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission already requires industry to regularly report water use and publically disclose ingredients used for hydraulic fracturing.
  • Government would be able to regulate licence and approval holders to meet critical environmental flows during times of drought/scarcity.

Government is also assessing fees and rentals for various water uses (surface and groundwater) including the oil and gas sector.  And in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations.

Send us your comments on the Water Sustainability Act legislative proposal by leaving a comment on the blog.



    User avatar
    [-] Damien

    The limited treatment of oil and gas-related water regulation throughout this process is wholly inadequate, given the serous mismanagement of freshwater resources in this context to date, coupled with the extraordinary pressure on water looming from a massive planned expansion of hydraulic fracturing to feed the new LNG industry that is at the core of this government’s economic vision.

    Today, BC produces about 4 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas. It has taken us 50 years and almost 40,000 wells to get to this point. It’s hard to imagine what a several-fold increase in all this activity would look like, but that’s precisely what would be required to power BC’s LNG industry.

    Presently, a little under half of the gas coming out of BC is from fracking – the rest from “conventional” gas plays. But that balance is quickly shifting. We’ve already tapped most of the easy, lower-impact stuff and the majority of new supplies will come from far more water-intensive shale gas.

    BC’s Minister of Natural Gas Development recently revealed the extent of his government’s vision for “clean” LNG: they want to see five of these plants built, with three up and running by 2020.

    If you look at the volumes of the four pipelines proposed to supply these plants – two to Kitimat, the other two to Prince Rupert – the combined capacity ranges from 10-15 billion cubic feet/day (2.5 to almost 4 times our current production).

    The government intends to continue supplying BC’s own energy needs and our Canadian and US customers – this new LNG would come on top of that 4 billion cubic feet/day – for many decades to come.

    That means a several-fold increase in gas production into the distant future. Since most of that new supply would have to come from fracking, it is clear that a massive increase would be required to feed LNG.

    The impacts would extend in many directions. The 11 billion or so litres of water reported by the Oil and Gas Commission as used and contaminated for fracking each year in BC would be upped several-fold – this in a region often beset by drought conditions.

    My chief concerns with the way water is presently (mis)managed for fracking – and with the proposed revisions for the new Act to address these issues – are as follows:

    1. There is no cumulative review of all these different fracking operations. What we see instead is a wild, wild west mentality which utterly ignores the combined implications of myriad proposed LNG plants, pipelines, and the enormous increase in fracking that would be required to supply. The new Act must emphasize a cumulative approach to the review and allocation of water for fracking in a manner which has the power to legally deny projects which do not fit responsibly within this scope.

    2. There is no long-term planning vis-a-vis the effects of climate change on freshwater supplies. Already we’re seeing drought conditions on an almost yearly basis in northeast BC – we can expect that to intensify due to climate change, yet there is no modelling being done and applied to the issuance of water permits. This is a serious shortcoming which the new Act must address.

    3. I am in agreement with a recent lawsuit filed against the OGC and Encana regarding the unlawful issuance of short-term Section 8 water permits. This ad-hoc, gold-rush-type system skirts the existing Water Act. This practice should be discontinued in the new Act.

    4. Undue priority is given to the oil and gas industry over other land uses which also depend on access to fresh water, such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism.

    5. There is a wholesale lack of baseline data for rivers, lakes, streams, wells and muskeg from which water is presently being withdrawn. The time scale being referenced by the government today for the LNG industry is 85 years. If we are to plan for the responsible allocation of water resources over that time frame, we need to be gathering quality baseline data today. The discussion around the new Act contemplates the collecting of information from all well owners to help improve understanding of aquifers and how they interact with lakes and streams. This does not go nearly far enough to address the need for comprehensive baseline data and ongoing monitoring of all potential extraction sources of water for fracking.

    6. There is a serious lack of monitoring of water levels and potential groundwater contamination. For all of BC’s 39,000 wells, as of last year we had just 4 test wells to measure contamination. With all the chemicals being used in fracking and drilling, plus the pre-existing underground contaminants being brought to the surface through flow back, we need a far more rigorous, independent system of groundwater contamination monitoring and enforcement. This flow back can carry a host of highly toxic substances into the groundwater and surface water – such as mercury, arsenic, barium, strontium, benzene, radium, uranium and other radioactive elements.

    7. We have a regulator which does not behave remotely like a a regulator – under-resourced, funded in part by the industry it is supposed to regulate, and tasked with a parallel and conflicting mandate to promote the industry. The OGC relies almost exclusively on self-reporting by companies, instead of properly monitoring and enforcing environmental standards on its own. In order for the Water Sustainability Act to be effective in protecting water, we need fundamental changes to our regulatory system. The OGC has all of ONE hydrologist on staff. ONE HYDROLOGIST FOR THE ENTIRE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY IN BC!

    8. In addition to Section 8 permits, water for the fracking industry is derived from a patchwork of other sources and there is no real understanding of exactly how much water is being used in BC for fracking. This has to change. The establishment of a database of all groundwater wells in the province being discussed under the new Act is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. This database must include all forms of water withdrawals and must be fully and easily accessible to the public.

    9. The government, regulator and companies all too often cite mean annual flow regimes to defend water withdrawals. “It’s only .03% of that river’s mean annual flow,” they say. River levels vary wildly from season to season and year to year. .03% may be small potatoes in the midst of the Spring freshet – it’s an entirely different matter in late August, amid drought conditions. The new Act should take into account seasonal and yearly variations in water levels in terms of issuing and restricting water use for fracking.

    10. There is a move to issue new, long-term water licences for fracking. The Fort Nelson First Nation came out publicly against these licences the Horn River Basin last year, for good reason. Under NAFTA and other potential trade deals such as the Chinese FIPPA and the European CETA deal, the issuance of long-term licences creates conditions whereby the province and Canada could lose control of water rights, regardless of changing conditions on the ground. This is a matter that must be taken with the utmost seriousness vis-a-vis any new licensing regime.

    11. I do not support the free giveaway of water, but the pricing of water is also fraught with trade and control implications. The system of application fees being proposed in the discussion around the new Act likely doesn’t go far enough toward incentivizing conservation on the part of fracking companies. A colleague of mine suggests another way: the penalizing of water use through fees that do not amount to conventional pricing of water, thus likely immune to these trade implications. I think this is a sensible solution that merits serious consideration.

    12. There is an increasingly prevalent notion that water for fracking should be derived from “brackish” sources from deep underground. While this may relieve pressure on groundwater and surface water sources, we must be very cautious about the implications of dredging underground contaminants to the surface, as referenced above. This method should not be considered a viable solution until more research has been done into possible contamination issues flowing from these water sources.

    13. Another program used to conserve freshwater – the re-use of “produced water” in future fracking operations – carries new risks in and of itself, as a recent incident in the Talisman’s Farrell Creek operation demonstrates. There, a frackwater pit laden with chemicals became punctured and leaked contaminants into the soil and groundwater. The incident also illustrates the shortcomings in our regulatory system, as it took the company months to properly investigate the issue and report it to the OGC.

    14. As practitioners of their traditions on the land since time immemorial, First Nations possess unique knowledge of watercourses, fish and wildlife in their territories and a demonstrated ability to live in harmony with their environment that is invaluable to our understanding and protection of freshwater today. They also possess treaty and constitutional rights to be consulted with regards to industrial activities that could impact on their relationship with the land and waters of their ancestral territories. I do not feel these duties have been lived up to, as a rule, by the Crown vis-a-vis oil and gas activities and would like to see the new Act reflect these rights to ensure indigenous peoples are given ample opportunity to be stewards of the shared water resources which are so essential to their way of life and all of our survival.

    Water is the lifeblood of our ecosystems. If the Water Sustainability Act is to live up to its name, then it must provide a genuine, strong, comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure that the oil and gas industry is not given priority over health and future of our environment.

    I am not encouraged by the discussion on this topic through the modernization process to date, nor the ridiculously short period of public comment offered here.

    That said, I hope my comments and those of other engaged British Columbians can have some meaningful, positive influence of the finalization of a process that is long overdue.


    Damien Gillis

    User avatar
    [-] Candace

    – Conservation first: protect water for fish and other ecosystem values, require specific flow levels, scientifically defined, in all new and existing licences.
    – Public rights first: public before private — domestic and agricultural before industrial. Required not recommended.
    – No trading of water licenses. Shorten review times to 5-10 years.
    – No exemptions for forestry or oil and gas
    – Full-cost accounting: charge for water use based on the true costs of management, including local watershed planning.
    – Independent oversight: perhaps a quasi-tribunal like the Forest Practices Board, for water?
    – Hooray for shared governance — a requirement in today’s world — but need to ensure this is properly resourced.
    – Honour First Nations rights and title.

    User avatar
    [-] Tim

    I would repeat what a couple of other posters had to say:
    1. environmental needs (including aquifer recharge) must be the number one priority for water allocation, AND must be applied across the board, whether to real estate development or resource extraction or water despoiling such as pulp or mine pollution.

    2. Another key issue is that government needs to provide adequate staffing levels to oversee these issues and that includes planning and enforcement, all of which is missing from today’s governance model. It seems that when it comes to environmental issues, monitoring and enforcement is always sorely lacking, be it at the provincial or federal level.

    3. The Water Act needs to be enforceable, not just guidelines for water usage. Guidelines are only codes for common sense and decency, and if they worked we wouldn’t need an Act at all.

    I would like to add to that my concern that there is little local control or say over how watersheds are impacted by industrial developments. I live in Shawnigan Lake and there has been approval recently of a toxic soil dump which has the potential to pollute our local drinking supply.

    This project had little public attention until it was essentially announced to local residents that it was in the final stages of approval. The main problem with the approval process is that it looked at technical points raised by the proponent which casts all dangers of contamination as being managed and accounted for and other facts and studies brought up by the opponents were seemingly disregarded by the sole decision maker.

    What troubles me is that my local regional district has come out in opposition to the project and a local resident’s group has to go to court to appeal it. We have effectively no way to stop this from going through. Residents NEED to have control of their local water supplies whether that be through our local regional district or municipal government.

    User avatar
    [-] Delores

    I would like to request more time for this discussion since it seems to me that water issues are finally emerging out with some real clarity from the citizens’ viewpoints. I believe government has been in dialogue with the industrial water users for a long time (continually?) and ought to devote more time to discussing the issues WITH us! Therefore I would formally request an extension of time for this discussion which I think is finally getting to some real content.

    I also wish to reiterate what others are telling you — environmental needs (including aquifer recharge) must be the number one priority for water allocation, AND must be applied across the board, whether to real estate development or resource extraction or water despoiling such as pulp or mine pollution.

    Human uses for drinking water and sanitation should take second place and industrial withdrawals allowed only after full mapping determines that the first two needs can be met, under changing climate conditions.

    The Water Act must take precedence over other resource issues — no more should forestry or oil and gas be given an override on water protection. As for the royalties charged – they should have a decent minimum level and rise according to the profitability of the water usage. In that way farming will not pay as much as water bottling which is basically a kind of printing money.

    One of the reasons government must raise water royalties is that monitoring and enforcement of all water uses needs to be massively stepped up and the fees should cover the costs to the Environment Ministry. This is only fair.

    Finally, the Water Act needs to be enforceable, not just guidelines for water usage. Guidelines are only codes for common sense and decency, and if they worked we wouldn’t need an Act at all.

    User avatar
    [-] Paul

    The Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board represents the interests and concerns of British Columbia’s stewardship community to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The following is a distillation of comments collected from SEHAB members who liaise with stewardship groups such as streamkeepers and watershed monitors from across the province.

    • Environmental flows should come first with no exceptions or exemptions. BC citizens care about their water.

    • We need a lot of strengthening around considering water in land-use decisions and have the “HOW” defined. How will hydrology be considered when making land-use decisions? During the last ten years of heavy resource extraction we have been told that “Professional Reliance” looks after everything and yet we can find example after example where Professional Foresters have been signing off for issues that did not consider hydrology, (scope of practice) where there was no landscape-level planning or consideration, and the cumulative effects have destroyed streams, rivers and habitat.

    • The mountain pine beetle is a regional issue where 40 years of AAC (Annual allowable Cut) has been extracted in 10 years with no consideration for habitat.

    • Protecting groundwater requires the Province to map aquifers in order to protect them, so that should be a requirement for resource extraction and again at a landscape level.

    • Another key issue is that government needs to provide adequate staffing levels to oversee these issues and that includes planning and enforcement, all of which is missing from today’s governance model. It seems that when it comes to environmental issues, monitoring and enforcement is always sorely lacking, be it at the provincial or federal level.

    • We would like to see stronger language around environmental flows. What does it mean that environmental flows “may be considered”? Environmental flows should always be a key factor in any water-related decision making.

    • The statement about allowing for delegation of some activities or decisions to agencies outside of government is problematic. There should be some sort of qualifier that it would not include those with monetary interests, such as resource developers or private business.

    Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board

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    [-] Bobbi

    Thank you for this opportunity to comment. After reviewing the proposed legislation, I have two concerns remaining. I believe we need to ensure that commercial and industrial pricing of potable water sources have full cost accounting applied (including recognition and protection of human and all species use) in an equal and fair manner for all commercial and/or industrial extractions or uses. The second issue relates to the following statement: “An exemption is being considered for deep saline groundwater—water that is typically unsuitable for drinking and irrigation, but could be viable for some commercial purposes.”
    I disagree that an exemption should be applied for deep saline groundwater uses. Desalinization techniques like this: which are in use and increasing out of necessity in many areas of the world today, may become the only way and means of some developing countries to attain abundant potable water sources in future. If we plan to be truly sustainable, we will recognize and apply values toward our own use which recognize the value of these sources to others existing in the world around us – ie plan locally, think globally. Thank you again for the opportunity to comment. Reviewing the comments of others clearly displays how much BC residents treasure this priceless and limited resource.

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