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BC gov must rein in shale gas industry, says enviro group

The Clark government must step up its monitoring and regulation of B.C.'s rapidly expanding natural gas industry if it hopes to protect the province's water supplies and honour its own climate change commitments, says a Vancouver-based environmental group.

In two reports released today, The Pembina Institute makes the case that the province's current oversight and regulation of the natural gas industry is outdated.

According to Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute's B.C. Energy solution program, with the development of new drilling techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") and directional drilling, the last few years have seen significant expansion of natural gas exploration and extraction in B.C. and across North America.

"That pretty dramatically changed the economics of B.C.'s gas reserves," says Horne. "The province's climate planning and policy hasn't adapted to that reality yet."

For example, according to report titled "Risks to B.C.'s climate action objective," British Columbia's Climate Action Plan, a law that binds the province to reduce emissions to two-thirds of the 2007 levels by 2020, assumes a fairly modest expansion of the natural gas industry over the next decade.

Given the recent changes in that industry, says Horne, the province must revise the Climate Action Plan and push the industry harder to reduce emissions.

The second report, "Risks to B.C.'s water resources," focuses on the government's regulation and oversight of water-use and water contamination by the natural gas industry.

The biggest issue, says Horne, is the monitoring of water use for the purposing gas drilling.

"If we're going to make good decisions about how much water we can use for the natural gas sector," says Horne. "We need to have a good sense of how much in total we are using. Right now, we have varied regulation and gaps in regulation that doesn't give anyone a full picture on the water-use."

Horne points to certain developments, such as recent government proposals to mandate reporting requirements for large water users, as encouraging signs that Victoria might be taking some steps towards a more comprehensive regulatory regime for the natural gas industry.

"You've got some pieces in place," says Horne. "But in terms of an overall solution, we aren't there yet."

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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