One of the comments to the article below:
….title of the article is misleading.
I suggest: “Alberta Offers Lessons In Keeping Oil and Gas Industry ‘Safe’ From A Public Endangered By Fracking”
Much more fitting.
Alberta Offers Lessons in Keeping Dams Safe From Fracking, BC Hydro feared effects of fracking-induced earthquakes, relies on ‘understandings’ to reduce risk by Ben Parfitt, August 17, 2016, TheTyee.ca
BC Hydro is doing far less to ban potentially destructive fracking operations near its biggest dams than an Alberta power producer, raising questions about why British Columbia isn’t taking more action to protect public safety.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show that BC Hydro officials have feared for years that fracking-induced earthquakes could damage its dams and reservoirs. (Find yesterday’s report on those FOIs here.)
Senior dam safety officials with the Crown corporation even worried for a time that energy companies could drill and frack for gas directly below their Peace River dams. A dam failure could kill hundreds, if not thousands of people.
In an April 2012 email released in response to the FOI, BC Hydro’s director of dam safety, Stephen Rigbey, noted that the sale of drilling rights in the Montney gas field in the region meant “there may actually be a number of different owners laying claim under our damsites.”
Yet despite years of discussions with the BC Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates industry activities, BC Hydro has obtained only modest commitments to prevent fracking near its two Peace River dams — the massive W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which impounds the world’s seventh-largest reservoir, and the smaller downstream Peace Canyon Dam.
The restrictions, which Rigbey describes as “an understanding,” also apply to a third dam planned for the river, the controversial $9-billion Site C project.
Both BC Hydro and the commission say the [VOLUNTARY, LEGALLY UNBINDING?] understanding is that “no new tenures” will be issued to companies wishing to drill and frack for natural gas within five kilometres of BC Hydro’s dams.
However, companies who already hold rights would not be barred from fracking.
“If future activity related to the existing tenures is planned, we will work closely with the Oil and Gas Commission to put restrictions in place to effectively manage any risk,” Rigbey said in an email response to questions. [How can he or anyone prove that?]
What those restrictions would be remains the subject of discussions. [What ever industry decides?]
While the dams have some protection, there are no restrictions on drilling and fracking around the massive reservoirs impounded by BC Hydro’s existing Peace River dams or the future Site C reservoir.
In an email response to questions, the Oil and Gas Commission said that at this time the Ministry of Natural Gas Development “is not accepting any new requests for subsurface rights within five kilometres of the Site C construction area.”
There are no active hydraulic fracturing operations within five kilometres of BC Hydro’s Peace River dams, the email said, but there are “a small amount of existing subsurface rights issued within the five kilometre buffer zone around Site C.”
The rights were issued before the buffer was created, the commission said. “Any applications in that area, or elsewhere, go through a strict review process before permits are issued,” the statement said. “The Commission is also talking with BC Hydro about any additional permit conditions that would be required to protect public safety and the environment in the area specifically, before construction occurs on Site C.”
Lagging behind Alberta
But B.C.’s measures fall short of the steps that Alberta electricity provider TransAlta has taken to protect its dams and reservoirs.
In interviews and correspondence, TransAlta revealed it has effectively shut down all fracking within five kilometres of one of its dams — and around the dam’s entire reservoir.
And TransAlta has succeeded in imposing restrictions on potentially destructive fracking operations up to 10 kilometres from its dam.
But, as in B.C., there is nothing in writing — no regulation or law — banning natural gas companies from fracking near sensitive infrastructure such as hydro dams and reservoirs.
“At this time there is no regulated/government mandated exclusion areas near critical infrastructure in Alberta,” says TransAlta spokesperson Stacey Hatcher. Rather, Hatcher says, an “agreement” has been reached to exclude some [ONE?] hydro dams and reservoirs from fracking zones.
Both provinces appear reluctant even to suggest that fracking is inappropriate in certain cases where public safety is concerned, perhaps fearing the precedent such an admission would represent.
BC Hydro’s modest achievements come as the BC Liberal government pursues two at times conflicting agendas.
On the one hand, Premier Christy Clark vows to push the Site C hydro dam, the most expensive infrastructure project in B.C.’s history, “past the point of no return.”
On the other, the government continues to push development of a liquefied natural plant near Prince Rupert by Malaysian state-owned Petronas andattack project critics. Should the plant be built, natural gas drilling and fracking near the Peace River and its hydro facilities would significantly ramp up to provide the needed natural gas.
In an April 2012 email, Rigbey likened potential fracking in the Peace to “carpet bombing,” adding that in future years much of the anticipated fracking would occur across a “well-established” regional stress regime.
With or without LNG, expect more fracking
Even if no LNG plants are built — an increasing likelihood given Shell’s announcement last month that it was delaying a decision on another plant — an upswing in natural gas prices would almost certainly bring increased gas drilling and fracking. That would include activity alongside the reservoir that would be created by the Site C dam, which would flood more than 100 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries.
Even without fracking, up to 4,000 landslides are expected to dump debris into the reservoir as a result of the Site C dam, according to documents filed by BC Hydro as part of a federal-provincial review of the project. The 676-page report makes no mention of additional risks should earthquakes be triggered nearby.
Martyn Brown, former chief of staff to Clark’s predecessor, Gordon Campbell, says the province’s conflicting agendas underscore a troubling aspect of oil and gas industry regulation in the province.
Brown says from its creation the Oil and Gas Commission has both promoted and regulated industry activities. Setting limits on where companies drill and frack is simply not part of commission’s culture, he says.
Brown says the commission — like the National Energy Board — is locked into an inherent conflict of interest.
“It has a dual role as a proponent of oil and gas development, but also its regulator,” Brown says. “And I think there is a fundamental conflict with that.”
Political oversight of the commission is also problematic. Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman is responsible for the Oil and Gas Commission. As his title indicates, his mission is to “promote oil and gas activity,” not impose limits, notes Brown.
Brown said a neutral ministry — not responsible for promoting oil and gas development — should decide what activities will be allowed or barred if there are concerns oil and gas activities could threaten critically important public infrastructure like dams and reservoirs and public safety. [Where in the world would the oil and gas industry and its enabling politicians and regulators allow a neutral ministry?]
“Clearly what you need now is an independent voice in cabinet, the environment minister, to make broad determinations in an independent way,” Brown said. “The promoter should not be the regulator of oil and gas activities.”
Documents released in response to the FOI request show hydro-power producers in both Alberta and British Columbia have become increasingly alarmed at natural gas company activity on lands near their dams. The concerns have escalated as clusters of earthquakes have occurred in lockstep with fracking operations.
In one email released under the FOI request, Rigbey notes there are no regulations to stop oil and gas companies “from injecting into a pre-existing fault” in the rock. This creates the risk of fracking in geologically unstable areas, triggering or setting the stage for earthquakes.
While gas companies might not want to tap into such faults, Rigbey noted, “accidents can happen.” [Intentional ones by companies too!]
In its public pronouncements, BC Hydro has been more muted in its concerns. In a 551-page report filed with the joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed the Site C project, BC Hydro devoted less than two pages to discussing “petroleum industry-related” earthquakes and downplayed the threat.
“The Oil and Gas Commission is now establishing procedures and requirements for monitoring and reporting of induced seismicity,” BC Hydro reported to the panel in January 2013. “Each case of induced seismicity will be evaluated on the basis of its unique site-specific characteristics, but it is proposed that hydraulic fracturing would be suspended upon detection of an earthquake of magnitude 4 or larger. It should be noted that earthquakes less than about magnitude 5 do not release enough energy to cause damage to engineered structures.” [Where’s the data to back that up?]
In response to written questions, the Oil and Gas Commission said that as a result of discussions with BC Hydro the province “has established a five kilometre buffer area around the W.A.C. Bennett, Peace Canyon and Site C dams.”
Graham Currie, the commission’s executive director of corporate affairs, added that the Site C dam location is within the Montney Basin, which contains large quantities of shale gas. Gas from dense shale rock formations can only be coaxed from the earth by extensive use of fracking.
Gail Atkinson, an expert on induced earthquakes and a professor in earth sciences at the University of Western Ontario, says induced earthquakes can be hazardous because they occur much closer to the Earth’s surface than natural earthquakes. If such events happen near dams or other surface structures, the ensuing shaking can be much worse than from a naturally occurring earthquake of the same magnitude.
The higher the number of fracking-induced earthquakes near dams, the greater the risk that one of them might be strong enough to exceed a dam’s design and engineering limits.
“If the frequency of experiencing earthquakes near a dam increases, then the level of expected ground motions at the one per cent in 100 year likelihood level will increase,” Atkinson said. She warns that the risk will be greatest “in areas where the hazard was initially low because there is little natural seismicity.”
Atkinson added that even earthquakes of “moderate” strength could damage dams or other structures if they are induced close to such structures.
BC Hydro doesn’t talk about these risks publicly. In an online video on dam safety, for example, Rigbey talks about the threats to dams from naturally occurring earthquakes but doesn’t mention fracking or the increasing number of tremors associated with it.
Atkinson’s work has clearly influenced TransAlta’s thinking. The company is one of three organizations that fund her research chair on hazards associated with induced earthquakes. (The other two are the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Nanometrics, a maker of seismic monitoring equipment.)
TransAlta also covers costs so some of its engineers and dam safety officials can be part of a multidisciplinary research effort known as the Canadian Induced Seismicity Collaboration.
The CISC’s website notes that fracking-induced earthquakes are a “pressing problem” in Western Canada, and in British Columbia and Alberta particularly. “There is a significant (though very small) possibility that triggered events could be large enough to cause significant damage,” the CISC’s scientists say.
TransAlta’s Hatcher says the company has secured agreements with natural gas companies operating in Alberta to limit drilling and fracking near the Brazeau dam and its 13-kilometre long reservoir.
The special “traffic light” system applies to a zone between five kilometres and 10 kilometres from the dam and reservoir, she said in a written response to questions. “The traffic light system works in a similar manner to other traffic light systems for hydraulic fracturing, with a green (proceed), yellow (pause and monitor) and red (stop) protocol,” Hatcher said.
“TransAlta is concerned about the potential impact of fracking-induced earthquakes and continues to work with the Alberta Energy Regulator, Alberta Environment and the oil and gas operators to ensure that hydrocarbon development occurs in a safe manner that doesn’t create unnecessary risk to existing infrastructure,” Hatcher added.
TransAlta has effectively shut down fracking in the most sensitive zone extending five kilometres from the dam and reservoir after filing a number of “statements of concern” with the Alberta Energy Regulator, that province’s equivalent of the Oil and Gas Commission. [ AER listens to TransAlta’s concerns, but not citizens already directly harmed by companies fracing and breaking laws?]
Hatcher said that TransAlta could not release documents related to the agreements and referred questions to the AER. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has filed a second Freedom of Information request to obtain relevant documents.
Documents released by BC Hydro show the Crown corporation was prompted to call for frack-free buffer zones around its dams after learning what TransAlta had achieved in Alberta.
Giant underground gas reservoirs and fracking
Only one other highly sensitive — yet little known — infrastructure project in B.C. is currently the subject of special operating guidelines covering fracking. BC Hydro learned of those guidelines in email correspondence with the Oil and Gas Commission.
The project is a massive underground storage reservoir capable of holding approximately 2.3 billion cubic metres of natural gas. It is near an area called Pink Mountain, northwest of Fort St. John, where Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Petronas, is building roads, well pads, freshwater and wastewater holdings ponds, compressor stations, pipeline corridors and other infrastructure integral to the drilling and fracking process.
[Frac Quake Concern Check:
The company also has plans, which the provincial government has exempted from BC Utilities Commission review, for a privately owned and operated hydro transmission line from the Peace River’s hydroelectric facilities. The new line would allow Progress to burn less natural gas by switching to hydroelectricity, thus increasing the profitability of its fracked gas.
The gas storage facility consists of two underground reservoirs about 1,400 metres below the surfaces. Since the late 1980s, natural gas has typically been pumped into the reservoirs in the summer when gas demand is low and then pumped out as needed in the fall and winter.
Fortis Inc. announced that it was purchasing the facility from Chevron in 2015 for about US$266 million.
Fortis noted then that the facility could become critical in the event LNG went ahead in the province. “The facility — which is the only underground gas storage facility in B.C. offering storage to third parties — is also uniquely positioned to benefit from the completion of proposed LNG export projects, where it could provide balancing services to suppliers and LNG exporters.”
In an email response to questions, David Bennett, Fortis BC’s director of communications and external relations, said that “successful meetings” were held between the company, the Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Natural Gas Development.
Those talks resulted in new rules that “ensure current and future drillers and well operators are aware of the facility and operate in such a manner to maintain the integrity of the underground storage reservoirs and ensure that new well production is not taken from the ACGS [Aitken Creek Gas Storage] reservoirs.”
[Oil industry/regulatory failure check:
2015 12: Regulatory Failure, Corporate Failure, Inspection Failure, Integrity Failure, Casing Failure, Safety Failure, Greed Trumps All: Regulator & SoCalGas Co. knew casing was corroding, failing with major leakage problems at Porter Ranch gas storage facility more than a year before catastrophic leak
2015 12: 2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 staying with family or friends, 3,162 in placement process. Growing environmental disaster in LA: Monster industry-created methane leak revealed in new aerial infrared video. What happens if SoCalGas can’t fix their leak? Was the leaking gas frac’d? Is it radioactive? ]
In a followup phone interview, Bennett said that Fortis had no fears that fracking into the reservoir could result in a cataclysmic event like an explosion.
The main concern, he said, is to avoid someone taking gas out of the reservoirs by fracking into them. “We don’t want anyone interfering with the reservoir,” he said, adding Fortis wants Progress Energy and any other companies engaged in fracking “to stay away from the reservoir.” [No concern about public safety? Just about money?]
Documents released through the FOI request show that the commission has established “conditions for permits” for companies operating near the gas reservoirs. The conditions do not include an outright ban on fracking or gas drilling. On maps supplied by the Oil and Gas Commission, the buffer area is irregularly shaped and in most cases extends less than five kilometres from the reservoirs.
[Industry Gas Storage Greed & Danger Reality Check: Hutchinson Kansas disaster that killed two people was caused by industry’s leaking gas storage facility nearly 7 miles (11 kilometres) away:
End Industry Gas Storage Greed & Danger Reality Check]
In email correspondence, the Oil and Gas Commission said any company holding a permit to drill and frack for gas near the reservoirs “must not conduct any drilling completions or well operations” that have “a material adverse impact on the integrity or safe operation” of the facilities. [And if companies do? How long into eternity will the OGC look the other way, no matter who or what leaks and or blows up?]
How this is monitored and enforced is not clear.
Natural gas companies operating in the zone are also required to notify Fortis when a well is about to be drilled and fracked. They must also notify the company when they resume drilling following “a temporary suspension” of operations.
The special permit conditions do not specify what would lead to a “temporary suspension.” But earthquakes induced by fracking are among the events that have triggered stoppages in previous fracking operations.
Like the arrangements that have been worked out with BC Hydro, the special operating conditions at Aitken Creek are not common knowledge. Neither the commission nor the provincial government has issued a press release stating that special permit conditions, such as they are, are in place in the Aitken Creek area.
Much like the silence surrounding buffer zones around B.C.’s biggest hydroelectric dams, the government seems to be of the view that the less said, the better. [Like Encana promising to never do such a thing, but breaking the law anyways, secretly and intentionally fracing directly into Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers and diverting fresh water from them without a permit, while AER and Alberta Environment keep it from the public and fraudulently cover it up to protect Encana? Emphasis added]
Papers discuss fracking impact on B.C. dams, province defends approach by Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press, August 17, 2016, CTV News
VANCOUVER — Officials at British Columbia’s public power utility raised concerns as early as 2009 that earthquakes caused by a controversial gas-extraction method used in the mining industry may put the province’s largest hydroelectric dams at risk, internal documents reveal.
Emails obtained through an access-to-information request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show BC Hydro discussing the possible threat posed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a mining technique that involves injecting high-pressure fluid deep underground in order to extract either natural gas or coal-bed methane.
Critics [Not critics, oil company CEO’s!] have slammed fracking as a poorly understood and risky industrial activity that contributes to increased seismic activity and risks contaminating nearby aquifers.
In one BC Hydro email exchange dated Dec. 3, 2009, safety officer Ray Stewart expresses his unease to water rights comptroller Glen Davidson over the risks of a particular methane-extraction project near the Peace Canyon Dam.
“This letter is to inform you of BC Hydro’s concern,” Stewart writes.
“BC Hydro believes that there are immediate and future potential risks to BC Hydro’s reservoir, dam and power generation infrastructure as a result of this coal-bed methane project.”
He provides a list of potential impacts, including seismic activity beyond what the dam can withstand and hydrogeologic effects on the reservoir.
Another email, dated March 17, 2013, from dam safety engineer Scott Gilliss to engineering scientist Desmond Hartford discusses Gilliss’ research connecting an increase in fracking to a jump in seismic activity.
“In my view, the province should simply add buffer zones around any very extreme and very high consequence dams, where hydraulic fracturing cannot be undertaken without a prior full investigation into the risks, and an implemented risk management plan,” Gilliss writes.
“Why is this so difficult?”
The province experienced its largest fracking-related earthquake on record last summer, a magnitude 4.6 tremor that sparked further concerns about seismic activity linked to hydraulic fracturing.
In a statement released Tuesday, Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said exclusion areas have existed for the past several years around major dams and added that no new permits are being issued.
“The technology for hydraulic fracturing has existed in British Columbia since the 1950s, approximately 10 years after exploration activities first started in the province,” it says. “Additionally, major dams in the Peace region have been around for decades. That’s a long history of safety producing power while exploring for oil and gas resources in British Columbia — a safety record that speaks for itself.”
In a emailed statement, BC Hydro deputy executive Chris O’Riley said its dams are designed to withstand ground motions much larger and longer than those associated with fracking. He also confirmed that hydraulic fracturing activity has never taken place within five kilometres of the utility’s dams.
“The BC Oil and Gas Commission has put restrictions in place so that no new tenures will be issued within five kilometres of BC Hydro’s dams,” O’Riley added
“The BC Oil and Gas Commission has also agreed to notify BC Hydro prior to any planned activity in any of the existing tenures so that BC Hydro can plan its operations and maintenance activities accordingly.”
But Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the understanding that the commission will notify BC Hydro if existing tenure holders decide to carry out fracking activity is nothing more than a “gentleman’s agreement.”
“I find it disturbing that we have no firm regulation in place ΓÇª that simply says clearly there are frack-free zones,” Parfitt said in an interview. [It’s simple. Fracking is too harmful and unpredictable to regulate, thus the glaring lack of regulations and massive deregulation everywhere fracing is taking place.]
“Government is there to regulate and to ensure public health and safety. The best way to do that is be clear about what industrial activities will be allowed where, and what will not be allowed.” [Emphasis added]
One of the comments to article below:
“The current unwritten ‘understanding’ between the OGC and BC Hydro is that no new tenures will be awarded to companies allowing them access to natural gas deposits in a zone within five kilometres of the three dam sites.
… While there is ‘no consensus’ about what constitutes a reasonable size for no-frack zones, buffer zones do make sense, Atkinson said.”
Did this unwritten “understanding” include drawing a number out of a hat? Why pick a 5 km buffer when, so far, studies have shown:
“Seismicity can be induced at distances of 10 km or more away from the injection point and at significantly greater depths than injection. In the classic case of injection-induced seismicity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, seismicity was induced at distances of at least 10 km laterally from the well and at depths of at least 4 km greater than the depth of injection (Healy et al., 1968; Herrmann et al., 1981; Hsieh and Bredehoeft, 1981). More recent reports have argued that seismicity may be induced at 20 km or more from the injection point (Keranen et al., 2014).”
“Companies already holding such rights will, however, be allowed to drill and frack for gas. In the event that happens, BC Hydro says it will work with the OGC ‘to effectively manage any risk.'”
Oh yes, the magical “traffic light” system. If your frac job causes a 4.0M, you get an imaginary “red light” and must stop frac’ing and report it. Never mind some of these frac jobs are blowing right through the 4.0M imaginary “red lights,” and going straight to a 4.8M “uh-oh-we-should-have-put-an-imaginary-reverse-white-light-on-our-magical-traffic-light,” as happened near Fox Creek, Alberta on Jan. 12, 2016.
And how much more magical do they think imaginary “traffic lights” are going to be, when the frac “traffic” has dispersed – but the frac quake “accident” is yet to come?
The BC OGC knows better than anyone that these industry quakes can have “variable time lags.” Do they really think that a bogus “traffic light,” four months after the frac, is going to stop an industry quake in it’s tracks – and the resulting damages?
“In the HRB [Horn River Basin], the seismic response to HF [Hydraulic Fracturing] injection clearly showed variable time lags.
Examining the data after January 2008, when sustained HF operations were carried out, suggests that it can take from days to as much as four months for the geologic system to respond with significant seismic events as predicted by the moment-volume relationship (Figure 6). Based on the HRB data set, it is unclear what factors and physical mechanisms control the time lag.
… Variable time lags are observed between intense HF and the occurrence of a significant local earthquake.”
“Members of the public at direct risk should a catastrophic dam failure occur are kept in the dark when it comes to negotiations that could have a direct impact on their lives.”
I think the BC OGC has made it crystal clear; they’re a “reactive” agency – magical “traffic lights” and all. And they’ll “respond to events as they occur,” so hopefully they have enough fingers between them.
“A recent presentation by Dan Walker, senior petroleum geologist for the BC Oil and Gas Commission, identified public safety, property damage, well bore integrity (the shaking can cause wells to leak methane) and aquifer contamination as genuine hazards from industry quakes.
But the BC Oil and Gas Commission would not grant the Tyee an interview with Walker to discuss his presentation in detail.
… In addition to the need for comprehensive seismic monitoring and event reporting, Walker said one of the key lessons learned to date was that ‘areas considered to be high risk for induced seismicity should be considered for exclusion from development.’
In a series of emails to The Tyee, the Commission said this lesson was not part of its policy and that the agency, which is funded by industry, would ‘respond to events as they occur and take measures to protect the public and environment.'”
PART ONE: Hydro Officials Quietly Feared Fracking Threat to Peace River Dams, FOI reveals Crown corp’s behind-the-scenes negotations for a buffer zone around projects by Ben Parfitt, August 16, 2016, TheTyee.ca
Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office and author of Fracking Up Our Water, Hydro Power and Climate: BC’s Reckless Pursuit of Shale Gas, a research report published in 2011 that called for frack-free zones.
Senior BC Hydro officials have quietly feared for years that earthquakes triggered by energy industry fracking operations could damage its Peace River dams and put hundreds – if not thousands – of people at risk.
Those discussions have resulted only in modest “understandings” between BC Hydro and the commission that would halt the issuing of any new subsurface rights that allow companies to drill and frack for natural gas within five kilometres of the Peace River’s two existing dams or the controversial $9-billion Site C dam.
Companies already holding such rights, however, would not be subject to the ban.
But once again, none of this is public knowledge. Only after the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives filed a freedom of information request did BC Hydro disclose its concerns, which focus on the possibility that fracking could trigger earthquakes more powerful than some of its dams are designed to withstand.
Documents released by the Crown corporation show that in December 2009 Hydro senior officials became alarmed at oil and gas industry operations near its Peace Canyon Dam. The dam is 23 kilometres downstream from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, a 49-year-old structure that impounds the world’s seventh-largest hydro reservoir.
Hydro officials were concerned about an experiment to extract methane gas from coal seams near the Peace River. Coal bed methane extraction had never been tried in B.C., although it had been used extensively in several U.S. states and Alberta, sometimes with disastrous results, including instances of contamination so serious people could set their tap water on fire.
To extract such gas, companies drill into relatively shallow coal seams and pump immense amounts of water under high pressure into the wells. Fracking creates cracks or fractures in the coal seams that allow trapped gas to be released. Typically, companies then pump the water out so the gas can flow.
Hydro’s concern was sparked by the activities of Hudson’s Hope Gas, a subsidiary of Canada Energy Partners and GeoMet Inc. The company had drilled at least eight coal bed methane wells near Hudson’s Hope, which is about nine kilometres downstream of the Peace Canyon Dam and home to more than 1,000 people.
Fracking an ‘immediate threat,’ warned Hydro safety chief
The company had plans to drill and frack up to 300 wells, with at least three close to the Peace Canyon Dam.
The plans alarmed Ray Stewart, BC Hydro’s chief safety, health and environment officer at the time, who called them an “immediate” threat to the region’s hydro facilities.
“The production of coal bed methane from these wells involves hydro-fracturing to increase permeability of the coal seams, followed by extraction of groundwater to de-saturate coal seams and allow methane gas to be released,” Stewart noted in a letter to the Ministry of Environment’s Glen Davidson, then British Columbia’s comptroller of water rights.
“BC Hydro believes that there are immediate and future potential risks to BC Hydro’s reservoir, dam and power generation infrastructure as a result of this.”
Stewart warned that the “potential effects” could include industry-induced earthquakes that were more powerful “than the original design criteria for the dam.” Stewart did not say what risks this posed to downstream people and communities.
Stewart also warned fracking could “reactivate” ancient faults, potentially leading to earthquakes. And he cited the risk of unspecified “hydrogeologic impacts” on reservoirs and the potential for land to subside, either as a result of immense amounts of water being pumped out of the earth or if de-watered coal seams somehow ignited.
There are no further such letters from Stewart in the documents supplied by BC Hydro. Part of the reason may be that coal bed methane extraction was a short-lived phenomenon in B.C. No company is currently drilling or fracking for such gas in the province.
However, no sooner had natural gas companies dropped their pursuit of coal bed methane than they turned to another “unconventional” fossil fuel – shale gas.
The Montney Basin, which underlies much of the Peace River region, is rich in shale gas. But extracting shale gas, which is tightly bound up in rock formations, requires the use of even greater brute force fracking technology. More water must be pumped at even higher pressure to fracture the rock and extract the trapped gas, which is typically found deeper than coal bed methane.
As fracking for shale gas became more common, senior officials at BC Hydro began to see a pattern. Earthquakes started occurring in lockstep with fracking operations.
One of the clearest examples was in the Farrell Creek fracking zone, near BC Hydro’s Peace River dams. Between July 2010 and March 2013, a dozen earthquakes were recorded in the region, ranging from a low of 1.6 magnitude to a high of 3.4.
The cluster of earthquakes, all in roughly the same region where one company, Talisman Energy, was involved in extensive fracking operations, caught the attention of Scott Gilliss, BC Hydro’s dam safety engineer in the Peace River region.
Gilliss made his concerns known to senior officials at head office. Shortly after, he received an email from Des Hartford, Hydro’s principal engineering scientist, who reported directly to Stephen Rigbey, the corporation’s director of dam safety.
“Scott,” Hartford’s email began. “As was discussed at the Department Meeting yesterday, this is to confirm that having brought forward your concerns about hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) activities in proximity of dams and reservoirs, you have discharged your responsibilities with respect to reporting and management of this matter. It is now up to Stephen as advised by me to determine what if any action should be taken by Dam Safety with respect to this matter.”
“Fundamentally, hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) is one of these ‘new and emergent’ threats that require examination in the context of scientific and policy considerations in order that any meaningful management actions can be initiated if required,” Hartford continued.
Hartford instructed Gilliss to document his concerns so others at BC Hydro could “take them forward.”
Lessons from a California disaster
Gilliss did so, pointing out in a subsequent email released under the FOI request that “oil and gas production may have contributed to a dam breach” at the Baldwin Hill Dam in Los Angeles in 1963.
The Baldwin Hill breach, as described by award-winning investigative reporter and Tyee contributor Andrew Nikiforuk in his most recent book, Slick Water, occurred at a then new dam. It resulted in a “colossal rupture that sent 292 million gallons of water spilling into a residential community, destroying hundreds of homes and killing five people.”
A review of the catastrophe by Richard Meehan, an expert on fluid migration at Stanford University, and Douglas Hamilton, a prominent civil engineer, concluded that “fluid injection” by the oil and gas industry, combined with sinking ground around the dam, had led to the structure’s sudden and deadly failure.
“This is the case study that triggered my concern over hydraulic fracturing in the Peace,” Gilliss wrote in an email to Hartford on March 17, 2013. “The Baldwin hills case appeared to have occurred following very intense [oil and gas industry] exploration and development, the likes of which we don’t have here yet. The geology of their site was also quite complex and riddled with faults. A similarity does exist in that there are two small thrust faults downstream of PCN [the Peace Canyon Dam] which dip beneath the dam. Reactivation of these small faults could be problematic for PCN. There are other north south trending fault[s] in the area.”
Gilliss ended his letter on a note of exasperation.
“In my view, which I have already shared, the province should simply add buffer zones around any very Extreme and Very High Consequence Dams, where hydraulic fracturing cannot be undertaken without a prior full investigation into the risks, and an implemented risk management plan. Why is this so difficult?” [Is it because industry and its enablers fully know the risks, and want to frac everywhere anyways, consequences and lives and $billions lost be damned?]
Gilliss’s buffer zone idea wasn’t new. Two years earlier, after conducting research for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, I wrote a report calling for “no-go zones” where fracking was prohibited to protect other important resources such as water. By then, there were also de facto bans on fracking in Quebec and New York State.
Gilliss and other top BC Hydro officials soon had even more reason to think that no-go zones made sense. More and more earthquakes in northeast B.C. were being triggered by fracking, including a magnitude 4.6 tremor that occurred north of Fort St. John last year. That earthquake was in an area being fracked by Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Malaysian state-owned Petronas. It was the largest in the world linked to fracking operations. [At the time. Fox Creek Alberta now holds the world record frac quake at 4.8M.]
Petronas is behind a controversial proposal to build a massive liquefied natural gas terminal at Lelu Island near Prince Rupert. The raw gas for the LNG plant would come almost entirely from northeast B.C., including the Peace River area, and would produced by fracking.
At least some of that gas would come from lands adjacent to what could one day be a new 83-kilometre-long reservoir impounded by the Site C dam. Like the upstream Bennett dam, Site C would be an earth-filled dam.
The Bennett dam, completed in 1967, is now almost exactly halfway through its projected 100-year operating life. At almost two kilometres across and the height of a 60-storey building, it is one of the largest earth-filled dams in North America.
In 1996, it became the subject of intense engineering and safety scrutiny when two sinkholes suddenly opened at the crest of the dam.
In a magazine article written three years later, writer Anne Mullens noted that a dam failure would unleash a torrent of water so powerful that it would wipe out the Peace Canyon Dam downstream, sending an “unstoppable burst of water 135 metres high” down on the residents of Hudson’s Hope and communities much farther downstream.
“Unlike a tsunami, the destruction wouldn’t simply peak and stop,” Mullens wrote in BC Business. “The pent-up waters of Williston Lake would just keep coming, seeking to return to its natural elevation. The waters would flow for weeks, scouring away communities like Old Fort, Taylor, Peace River, Fort Smith and beyond. The onslaught would back up tributaries and inundate the entire Peace River Basin, flooding Lake Athabasca and Great Slave Lake. The floods could devastate northern Alberta, portions of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories all the way to the Arctic Ocean. The death toll could be high; the environmental and structural damage astronomical. Combined with the loss of generating power of the dam, the unprecedented disaster would cost billions of dollars and throw B.C.’s economy into turmoil.”
Fracking damage potentially costly: Hydro
Stephen Rigbey, BC Hydro’s director of dam safety, says that in the aftermath of the discovery and repair of those sinkholes the Bennett dam has become “one of the world’s most studied and instrumented dams.”
In an interview following the release of the FOI materials, Rigbey said Gilliss and other dam safety officials operating in the field are paid to worry.
But Rigbey did say that ground motions from fracking operations could cause slight alterations to “weak bedrock” near the dams and that in turn could change the way that water naturally seeps through earth-filled dams. Ground motions could also knock some electrical control equipment offline, Rigbey added.
If either happened, BC Hydro would be faced with high repair and maintenance costs.
“Would it [fracking] bring the dam down? Not a hope. [TIME & FRACS WILL TELL] Would it do damage and cost me a lot of money? Absolutely. It would cost me a lot of time and a lot of money and that’s what I don’t want to occur,” Rigbey said.
Rigbey said that’s why BC Hydro has sought to exclude fracking from zones near the Bennett and Peace Canyon dams and around the construction zone of the Site C dam.
The current unwritten “understanding” between the OGC and BC Hydro is that no new tenures will be awarded to companies allowing them access to natural gas deposits in a zone within five kilometres of the three dam sites.
Companies already holding such rights will, however, be allowed to drill and frack for gas. In the event that happens, BC Hydro says it will work with the OGC “to effectively manage any risk.”
“This is a work in progress,” Rigbey said. “We are working toward strengthening the current understanding.”
Graham Currie, the Oil and Gas Commission’s executive director of corporate affairs, confirmed the five-kilometre buffer zones in an emailed response to questions. He said the buffer zone around Site C will “prevent the sale of oil and gas rights within the buffer area.” [Except for when rights are sold within the buffer area, or have already been]
Currie added that the proposed Site C dam falls within the Montney shale gas zone, one of the most actively drilled and fracked zones in the province.
“Site C falls within the Montney play and will be built to a high seismic safety standard,” Currie wrote. “During construction, permit conditions on a well in the Montney may be used to control the timing of hydraulic fracturing operations. All wells in the Montney are double-lined with cement and steel to a depth of 600 metres for further protection.”
The email does not mention that such protective measures do not prevent fracking-induced earthquakes. Cement casings, which are often imperfectly poured and prone to fail, are intended to prevent groundwater from being contaminated – a different issue.
The “understanding” between BC Hydro and the OGC applies only to the dams and not the lands around the reservoirs themselves, Currie said.
That includes lands around what could one day be the Site C reservoir, which could experience up to 4,000 landslides as the reservoir fills and after, according to a document prepared for BC Hydro. Whether fracking could further destabilize those lands, damaging the reservoir and dam itself, remains unknown.
What is known, however, is that earthquakes induced by fracking behave entirely differently than naturally occurring earthquakes.
Gail Atkinson is a professor in earth sciences and leading expert on the effects of induced earthquakes who holds the Industrial Chair in Hazards from Induced Seismicity at the University of Western Ontario. The chair is funded, in part, by TransAlta, a privately owned electricity provider in Alberta.
In response to written questions, Atkinson said most people would agree with the proposition that “precluding oil and gas activity such as fracking… within some radius of dams and reservoirs would prevent the possibility of induced seismicity that could damage such facilities.”
Atkinson said the big concern with earthquakes triggered by events such as fracking is that they occur much closer to the earth’s surface than natural earthquakes. A fracking-induced tremor might be as close to the surface as two kilometres, while a natural earthquake might occur 10 kilometres down.
The shaking caused by a fracking-induced earthquake may be short, but it is a stronger and different kind of shaking. The potentially “strong ground motions” generated by such shaking occur “closer to infrastructure on the surface.”
“The concern is that the potential for induced earthquakes to generate strong motions makes it difficult to satisfy the high safety requirements for critical infrastructure, if earthquakes can be induced by operations in very close proximity [to dams and reservoirs],” Atkinson said.
While there is “no consensus” about what constitutes a reasonable size for no-frack zones, buffer zones do make sense, Atkinson said.
“A zone of monitoring beyond the buffer zone is also a good precautionary measure in my view, as it would allow low-level induced seismicity from disposal or fracking beyond the buffer to be detected quickly and any necessary measures to be taken,” Atkinson said. “Enhanced monitoring would also provide valuable research data to improve our understanding of the issue.”
In a telephone interview, Hydro’s Rigbey said he agreed that both firm no-fracking buffer zones and wider special management zones made sense.
Atkinson’s thinking is consistent with TransAlta’s efforts to protect some of its hydro facilities in Alberta from fracking operations. Those efforts appear to have effectively shut down fracking in a buffer zone around one of TransAlta’s dams and the dam’s reservoir. Special operating guidelines are also in place beyond the buffer zones that can force companies to cease fracking.
But, as is the case in B.C., negotiations between TransAlta and Alberta’s energy industry regulator have happened behind closed doors.
Members of the public at direct risk should a catastrophic dam failure occur are kept in the dark when it comes to negotiations that could have a direct impact on their lives. [Emphasis added] Tomorrow: Alberta’s advances and questions about why B.C. may be lagging.
BC Hydro officials worry about risks of earthquakes triggered by fracking by Ian Bailey, August 16, 2016, The Globe and Mail
BC Hydro officials have worried that earthquakes triggered by fracking could damage or destroy some of the utility’s dams in the province’s north, an issue that has been a point of discussion among staff over recent years, documents show.
The concern about hydraulic fracturing…is outlined in the documents, obtained through freedom of information legislation by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and provided to The Globe and Mail. According to the documents, Hydro officials have worried for several years that fracking too close to the Peace Canyon Dam in northern British Columbia might cause the dam to fail.
The issue is raised in a 2009 letter from Hydro’s then-dam safety director, Ray Stewart, to a water rights comptroller in the provincial Environment Ministry. Referring to coal-methane fracturing in the area, Mr. Stewart wrote, “BC Hydro believes there are immediate and future potential risks to BC Hydro’s reservoir, dam and power-generation infrastructure as a result of this coal-bed methane project.”
Mr. Stewart wrote that possible consequences from coal-bed methane extraction include the “re-activation of existing geological faults in proximity of the BC Hydro facility,” and the earthquakes caused by human activity “may be greater than the original design criteria for the dam.”
BC Hydro’s deputy CEO, Chris O’Riley, responded on Monday by noting that the utility’s dams are built to withstand much larger ground motions associated with higher-magnitude earthquakes than those linked to fracking.
“Fracking by itself cannot generate large magnitude earthquakes,” he said in a statement issued in response to questions about the CCPA’s concerns.
The gas field was discovered in 1956 and production began in 1962. Over the next 14 years, roughly 600×106 m3 of water, or 106 ton per km2, were injected. …
Beginning in 1976, a series of large earthquakes was recorded. The first significant earthquake occurred on April 8, 1976 at a distance of 20 km [12 miles] from the Gazli gasfield boundary. The earthquake magnitude measured 6.8. Just 39 days later, on May 17, 1976, another severe earthquake occurred 27 km [17 miles] to the west of the first one. The magnitude of the second earthquake was 7.3. Eight years later, on March 20, 1984, a third earthquake occurred 15 km [9miles] to the west of the second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.2. … Aftershocks occurred in a volume surrounding the three hypocentres. These earthquakes are the strongest of all the known earthquakes in the plain of Central Asia. …
There was no clear relationship between the location of the earthquake hypocenters and any previously known active tectonic structures.
Closer investigation showed that the earthquakes had created new faults.
… In all these cases, the result of human interference was to change the state of stress in the surrounding volume of earth. If the stress change is big enough, it can cause an earthquake, either by fracturing the rock mass—in the case of mining or underground explosions—or by causing rock to slip along existing zones of weakness.
The situation in regions of hydrocarbon recovery is not always well understood: in some places, extraction of fluid induces seismicity; in others, injection induces seismicity.
… Even minor actions can trigger strong seismicity.
… The amassed data indicate that the Gazli earthquakes were triggered by the exploitation of the gas field.
In regions of high tectonic potential energy, hydrocarbon production can cause severe increases in seismic activity and trigger strong earthquakes, as in Gazli, Uzbekistan.
In regions of lower tectonic stress, earthquakes of that magnitude are less likely, but relatively weak earthquakes could occur and damage surface structures.
End Reality Check]
In the Peace River region linked to fracking for shale gas caused further debate at BC Hydro, with dam-safety engineering scientist Des Hartford responding in March, 2013, to a colleague’s concerns:
“Fundamentally, hydraulic fracturing is one of these ‘new and emergent’ threats that require examination in the context of scientific and policy considerations in order that any meaningful management actions can be initiated if required.”
Scott Gillis, Hydro’s dam safety engineer in the Peace region, to whom Mr. Hartford was writing, said his concern was triggered by the 1963 failure of the Los Angeles-area Baldwin Hills Dam that killed five people and destroyed 277 homes. Oil and gas production has been linked to the dam’s failure.
While Mr. Gillis acknowledged that the Baldwin Hills disaster occurred after “very intense exploration and development” unlike anything in British Columbia, he added that there is a “similarity” in small faults in the vicinity of the dam.
“Reactivation of these small faults could be problematic.”
He wrote that the province should add buffer zones around extreme and high-consequence dams where hydraulic fracturing could not take place without a “prior full investigation” of risks and a risk-management plan. [What good are buffer zones when frac quakes are felt 280 km away?]
[Refer also to:
Mr. O’Riley of BC Hydro said all earth-fill dams are designed to have some seepage, and fracking could increase natural seepage, “which only poses an issue of increased costs due to maintenance and operational requirements – not a dam safety issue.”
Graham Currie, a spokesman for the BC Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, said in a statement the province has established five-kilometre buffer zones around the W.A.C. Bennett, Peace Canyon and proposed Site C dams in which hydraulic fracking is not allowed. [But, frac’ing is allowed 100 metres from schools, homes, hospitals, drinking water supplies, including in deadly sour formations?!]
While some subsurface rights were issued in the five-kilometre zone around Site C [rendering the buffer a lie?], the commission is talking about “additional permit conditions” in these areas, Mr. Currie wrote.
John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, said he was skeptical about an “induced earthquake” damaging one of the Peace River dams because the quakes have tended to be too small. [Refer to Reality Check above.]
“Interestingly, the location of the proposed Site C dam is much closer to the area where fracking is being conducted.
“I suspect that BC Hydro is taking this into account in the engineering design of the dam,” Dr. Clague wrote in an e-mail.
Fracking has been linked to earthquakes in the oil and gas fields of Western Canada, with the journal Seismological Research Letters releasing research in March that examined 12,289 fracking wells and 1,236 wastewater wells in an area along the B.C.-Alberta border.
The research linked 39 fracking wells and 17 wastewater disposal wells directly to a number of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher.
The number of earthquakes in northeastern B.C. – small quakes detected by an increased array of government, industry and regulatory sensors – have increased from 20 a year in 2002 to about 200 a year in 2011, though many are quite small. [Emphasis added]
BC Hydro worried fracking-created earthquakes a danger to northern dams by Gordon Hoeksra, August 16, 2016, Vancouver Sun in Calgary Herald
Internal documents show B.C. Hydro officials have had concerns since at least 2009 that earthquakes triggered by fracking are a potential risk to its Peace River dams.
The electricity-generating dams in northeastern B.C. include one of the largest earth dams in the world, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, as well as the smaller Peace Canyon Dam, and the $9-billion Site-C dam, which is under construction.
The Crown agency has not discussed the issue publicly.
But as a result of its concerns, B.C. Hydro worked out an agreement, possibly as early as 2014 with the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC), to create five-kilometre buffer zones around dams where no new fracking and drilling rights are issued, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-wing think-tank.
There is no ban on fracking or drilling for companies that hold existing rights, but B.C. Hydro says it will work with the BCOGC, responsible for development and regulation of the natural gas sector, to effectively manage any risk, according to the report.
This is the minimum that should be done, said report author Ben Parfitt, a resource analyst for the centre for policy alternatives.
“If a dam were ever to fail, it would be absolutely catastrophic,” said Parfitt.
Hudson’s Hope, a community of about 1,000, and several other smaller communities, are downstream of the Peace Canyon Dam.
In a written response to questions from The Vancouver Sun, B.C. Hydro deputy CEO Chris O’Riley said as far as the agency knows [have they looked?] there has never been any fracking within five kilometres of its northeast B.C. dams. Gas rights are held within the buffer of the Peace Canyon Dam and the Site-C location.
O’Riley called the buffer put in place by the BCOGC a precautionary measure.
“That said, our dams are built to withstand much larger ground motions associated with higher magnitude events that are much longer in duration than fracking,” said O’Riley. “
In fact, our dams can withstand events many times larger than those associated with fracking.”
Fracking by itself cannot generate large magnitude earthquakes, he said.
Fracking does have the potential to increase natural seepage from these dams which, however, is an issue of increased cost, not dam safety, said O’Riley.
The concerns over fracking-triggered earthquakes are outlined in e-mails and letters obtained by the centre for policy alternatives — between B.C. Hydro officials and also with provincial agencies such as the Ministry of Natural Gas Development, the Ministry Environment and the BCOGC — through a freedom of information request and provided to The Vancouver Sun.
The centre for policy alternatives says it is particularly concerned there has been no public discussion of the risk posed by fracking-triggered earthquakes to the Peace dams and believes a stronger response is needed.
That includes creating regulations to make the five-kilometre buffer zones mandatory and extending the buffers to reservoirs. The centre for policy alternatives also advocates creating zones for areas farther than five kilometres from dams to consider whether fracking will take place.
The buffer zones and assessment should be overseen by an independent agency such as the Ministry of Environment and not the BCOGC, said Parfitt, the author of the report. [Are the environment and water regulators any less corrupt than the energy regulators? ]
The report also notes that fracking-induced earthquakes take place closer to the surface than natural earthquakes, which could be a concern for dams and other structures.
The largest fracking-induced earthquake, recorded in August 2015 near Fort St. John, was 4.6 in magnitude. [Not anymore. Fox Creek Alberta wiped out that record with its January 12, 2016 4.8M frac quake, felt 280 km away] That magnitude is great enough to move dishes and windows, create cracking sounds in walls and feels like a heavy truck striking a building, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In 2009, in a letter to the B.C. comptroller of water rights, Ray Stewart (then Hydro’s director of dam safety), raised concerns about fracking in coal-bed methane seams near Hudson’s Hope and adjacent to the Peace Canyon Dam.
Potential effects included: “Induced seismicity that may be greater than the original design criteria of the dam,” said Stewart.
Production from coal-bed methane never materialized, but in 2012, the concern was raised again, this time over fracking to release gas from rock deep below the surface.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, uses water and chemicals injected below the surface under high pressure to crack rocks to release natural gas.
In a March 17, 2013 e-mail, B.C. Hydro Peace Area dam safety engineer Scott Gilliss suggested to B.C. Hydro’s chief scientist dam safety Desmond Hartford that the Crown agency “simply” create the buffer zones around any extreme and high-consequence dams. [Emphasis added]
One of the comments to the article in the Herald:
Sadly, this report fails to take many factors into consideration. In an email to me from Minister of Energy and Mines in BC, Bill Bennett states that there is a 5 km buffer around the dams at this time and that fracking will not lessen the integrity of either dam. That may be true of a stable and well maintained dam. The WAC Bennett dam is anything but.
In 1996, a tourist discovered a sink hole in the worlds highest earth filled dam. make a note of that, “a tourist discovered a sink hole.” It wasn’t the dam maintenance staff, but a tourist. During the investigation of the first sink hole, 2 more were discovered. Expert engineers were brought in and they discovered other structural problems with the dam holding back 74 trillion liters of water in the Williston reservoir. Most notably, a major erosion problem along the top of the dam in the outer and inner riprap. The wave action had been eroding the rock (riprap) and calking cover of the earth fill of the dam itself. According to the EEP report, the erosion was carried into the earth fill as well. This was in 1998.
I have copies of an email conversation between BC Hydro and the BC Utilities Commission which oversees BC Hydro’s expenditures. In that email, BC Hydro states that the WAC Bennett dam could breach in the event of “a hundred year storm or a small seismic event.” As an “extreme consequence dam” one would expect the erosion issues to have been repaired very quickly because according to the EEP report, the damage is “extensive” and “severe.” That report was issued in 1998 and again the same language was used in the EEP report in 2012. In 2016, today, the bids are just going out for riprap repairs. 18 years of unabated erosion, but BC Hydro is confident that fracking caused earthquakes pose no threat to the Peace Canyon dam but fail to mention the bigger, older and much ailing WAC Bennett dam.
I appreciate the fact that the media has carried this story at all, but perhaps instead of the copy and paste I see here, some investigative reporting is in order to get the entire picture of the state of the dams on the Peace River. After all, in the event of a catastrophic breach of the WAC Bennett dam, many Alberta communities along the Peace river and indeed all the way into the Yukon Territory will be in extreme peril. [Emphasis added]
B.C. Hydro concerned that fracking might damage dams by Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press, August 16, 2016, Prince George Citizen
Utility officials fear fracking will damage dams by Lynn Desjardins, 16 August, 2016, Radio Canada International
Officials at western Canada’s BC Hydro worry that earthquakes caused by fracking may put large hydroelectric dams at risk, according to documents obtained through Access to Information law.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice of injecting fluid at high pressure deep underground to force out natural gas or methane. Critics say the process pollutes groundwater and causes earthquakes.
‘Immediate and future potential risks’
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives obtained emails from officials at British Columbia’s public power utility, reports Canadian Press (CP). In one missive from December 2009 Hydro safety officer Ray Stewart says “the utility believes fracking poses immediate and future potential risks to reservoir, dam and power generation infrastructure near the Peace Canyon Dam.”
Hydro says dams are strong
CP reports Hydro deputy executive Chris O’Riley said “dams are designed to withstand ground motions much larger and longer than those associated with fracking and new restrictions keep fracking operations at least five kilometres from Hydro facilities.”
That’s not good enough for Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives analyst Ben Parfitt. He told CP those restrictions are little more than a gentleman’s agreement and he wants tougher rules on zones where fracking would be banned.