Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.


The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Water use restrictions laid down for gas producers

With summer heat scorching the province, the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) has suspended water withdrawals from four rivers in northeastern B.C.'s Peace River watershed.

As of mid-week (August 11), natural gas producers can no longer take water from the Kiskatinaw River, Pine River, Halfway River, and Moberly River. The Kiskatinaw River, currently at a level not seen since 1992, is the drinking water source for Dawson Creek, while Pine River water flows from the taps in Chetwynd.

"Transparent reporting of water use overseen by the Commission is imperative to remain accountable to British Columbians in the regulation of all facets of oil and gas activity," said OGC commissioner Alex Ferguson in a press release.

The move came two days after the commission released its first-ever report on water use by the oil and gas industry in B.C. That document shows from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, the OGC licensed the withdrawal of more than 78 million cubic metres of water, mainly from waterways in northeastern B.C. (For comparison, the mining and petroleum sector consumed more than 117 million cubic metres of water over the same period.)

In the midst of drought conditions last month, the commission also urged the industry "to be diligent in licensed water withdrawals and ensure withdrawals are in compliance with permit approvals." At the time, the OGC faced scrutiny for allowing Talisman Energy to extract water from BC Hydro's Williston Reservoir while the Peace River sat at critically low levels downstream.

Aside from the more than 592 billion cubic metres of water allotted to hydro power producers in fiscal 2009, nearly 15 billion cubic metres was used across B.C. for land improvement, municipal water systems, industrial uses, agriculture, and other uses.

Water is used by the gas industry for routine drilling as well as for stimulating gas flow after hydraulic fracturing, or "fraccing" -- a process of creating underground explosions which allow natural gas to flow from pores within dense shale rock.

While fraccing occurs at depths far below those at which water wells are typically affected, the fresh water used is sequestered under impermeable rock layers and essentially removed from the hydrological cycle, argue the industry's critics.

The OGC did not indicate in its press release what levels of water extraction were being carried out on the rivers subject to the ban. The ban also failed to include Lynx Creek, a tributary of the Peace River located east of Hudson's Hope, known as a withdrawal point which hosts a 24-hour lineup of water tanker trucks bound for various gas well sites in the Fort St. John area.

The timing of the ban has been questioned, as the summer months generally spell low activity in the gas patch -- July and August are known as "turnaround" months, when major infrastructure work can be completed with minimal impact on production.

A significant amount of water was allocated to the gigantic Horn River Basin shale gas play near Fort Nelson in fiscal 2009, but only five per cent of the allocation was actually used, Ferguson told media in Fort St. John. The Horn River play is being heavily developed in concert with incentive programs offered by the province, and with more than 600 trillion cubic feet of gas in place, is considered one of the top gas reserves in North America.

While the Ministry of Environment oversees the majority of water extractions in B.C., the province's Water Act and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act allow the OGC to to approve some water access for surface and subsurface sources.

Greg Amos is a staff reporter for the Tumbler Ridge News and an occasional contributor to The Tyee.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus