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Study on fracking health risks is coming soon, say BC ministers

The British Columbia government is moving ahead with plans for a study that will look at how using fracking to extract natural gas may affect human health.

"The minister of health is sitting down with myself and other ministers to work out the parameters for that," Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman said. "They did one in Alberta. We're trying to decide whether to go to academia and what the terms of reference will be."

The idea came up during a town hall meeting last month in Fort St. John and no timeline has yet been set, he said.

Health Minister Mike de Jong said the province hopes to work with experts at the University of Northern B.C. on the study and that it will happen soon.

"There are concerns and we want to get some facts about to what extent those concerns are warranted, what steps can be taken to alleviate the concerns," he said. "I know we heard the questions and rather than offer political answers we'd like to offer some science-based answers."

Asked what the concerns he hopes will be addressed are, de Jong said, "Everything from the impact on water supply, for example, we've heard about that as well, proximity in terms of where it's taking place."

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a process of injecting rock formations with water, chemicals and sand to break them apart and allow the fossil fuels they contain to be extracted. Opponents say the process uses toxic substances, contaminates groundwater and may include the dangerous release of sour gas.

Those raising concerns include the Northern Health Authority's medical health officer Charl Badenhorst, who the Dawson Creek Daily News recently reported has been pressing the province to look at health issues related to the oil and gas industry.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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