Environmental Assessments no longer necessary?

Written by on October 24, 2018. Posted in Environmental laws

In May 2017 the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported the existence of approximately 16 dams located throughout northern British Colombia constructed without the proper regulatory approvals. The dams were allegedly constructed by Progress Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petronas, a Malaysian state-owned company (“Progress”), and other companies to support its fracking operations.

It appears that 2 dams of the 16 should have been subject to review by British Colombia’s Environmental Assessment Office (“EAO”). This review, if it concluded that the dams could be constructed, would have resulted in the EAO issuing a certificate allowing the company to get the necessary authorizations from other provincial agencies.

On December 23, 2016, applied for a total of 13 water licenses allowing the water to be impounded behind the dams it had already constructed.  The 13 water licences amount to a total of 683.000 cubic metres of freshwater for use in Progress’ fracking operations.

In October 2017 the Oil and Gas Commission (“Commission”) identified that approximately 7 of 51 large dams constructed in northeastern British Columbia were unsafe and were issued “enforcement orders.” The issues identified relating to water spilling over the top, erosion at the base and potential failure representing a hazard to the environment, First Nations and energy works. The Commission expressed concerns with five dams constructed by Progress including erosion, slumping and water overflowing the top of the dam.

The EAO in July 2018 surprising advised Progress that 2 of the larger dams it constructed will not be required to undergo an environmental assessment.  The 2 dams are identified as the Lily and Town dams. The Town dam was constructed in 2012 and the Lily dam 2014.  The larger of the two dams is said to be taller than a seven-storey building and both dams exceed the 15-metre height limit triggering an environmental assessment prior to initiating construction. Several comments were received during the public comment period opposing the exemption from the environmental assessment process.  On October 31, 2017 Progress was ordered to drain all but 10% of the water stored behind the Town and Lily dams. Progress was also ordered to monitor and record water volumes on a weekly basis during frozen conditions, and on a daily basis during conditions where flowing surface water is present and provide the information to the EAO upon request.

It is notable that there is no precedent in support of the EAO’s decision to exempt the dams from the environmental assessment process in the department’s twenty-five year history. What is interesting is that the information alleges that the dams are described as “illegal works” in documents released by the EAO in response to a freedom of information request from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

It is estimated that the drilling and fracking for natural gas in British Columbia’s Peace River region pressure pump up to 160,000 cubic metres of water underground at individual gas wells.

In April 2017 it was reported that Progress Energy triggered a 4.6 magnitude earthquake, when the hydraulic fracturing well injected more than 160,000 m3 of water, chemicals and sand over a period of approximately three weeks in 132 stages. Each stage creates a fracture in rock located deep underground, allowing gas to flow to wells. The fracking forces fluids into the ground at higher pressure and blows them into the shale rock to create cracks and channels through which the gas or oil moves to the well.