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Are voluntary corporate guidelines enough to avoid fracking-related earthquakes?

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Photo: Council of Canadians

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Fracking causes earthquakes.

CBC reports, "British Columbia's energy regulator has confirmed that a 4.6 magnitude earthquake in northeast B.C. in August of this year was caused by a nearby fracking operation. ...The quake struck in August, about 110 kilometres northwest of Fort St. John, near a gas fracking site operated by Progress Energy [which is owned by the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas]. ...The epicentre of the August quake was three kilometres from the Progress Energy fracking site. ...No one was injured in the earthquake and there was no damage reported, but shaking could be felt for several kilometres."

Remarkably, the Progress Energy fracking operation continued shortly after the earthquake (after they adjusted their pump rate to limit the amount of fluid injected underground to fracture rock, which apparently limits the triggering of seismic activity).

The gas produced at this fracking site would supply the planned Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal on Lelu Island. (In November, the Council of Canadians backed the Lax Kw'alaams Hereditary Chief's letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opposing this LNG project. For more on that, please click here.)

The CBC article highlights, "Fracking operations have previously triggered small earthquakes in B.C. In the U.S., the disposal of frack waste has triggered larger quakes. But scientists said last summer that the 4.6 magnitude August quake may be the largest in the world caused by hydraulic fracturing."

The Globe and Mail adds, "It surpasses two 4.4 magnitude induced earthquakes in Alberta and one of similar magnitude in B.C. last year that have been attributed to gas drilling activities, adding to growing concerns about a relatively new and controversial extraction process commonly known as fracking."

In 2002-03, before fracking started, there were 24 earthquakes in northeastern British Columbia. In 2010-11, after fracking had started, there were 189 earthquakes.

Despite these risks, federal and provincial regulations appear absent. Another Globe and Mail article reports, "The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has voluntary guidelines that urge companies to assess the risk of seismic activity before drilling, and to adjust pressure and water volumes in the fracking operation to reduce risks."

In October 2010, then-federal Conservative environment minister Jim Prentice stated that federal fracking regulations were being drawn up, but nothing has ever come of that.

The federal Liberals have only committed to ensure that "fracking is consistently meeting the most stringent environmental assessments and reviews" In May 2014, a Council of Canadian Academies report commissioned by the previous federal government found that fracking has the potential for triggering small to moderate-sized earthquakes in seismically active areas. It is our hope that the Trudeau government will consider fracking-related earthquakes in their promised "proper review and oversight" of fracking in this country and take the appropriate actions.

If just five of the nineteen proposed LNG terminals are built in British Columbia, those facilities would release 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The fracking and transport of the gas would generate an additional 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Those levels are inconsistent with the Trudeau government's commitment to limiting global temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. In February, the previous government announced a major tax break to spur the development of the LNG industry in B.C. We hope that the Trudeau government will cancel that tax break in its first budget this spring.

The Council of Canadians opposes fracking because of its high water use, its high carbon emissions, its impacts on human health, the disruption it causes to wildlife, and the danger it poses to groundwater and local drinking water. We are calling for a country-wide halt on fracking operations.

For more on our campaign against fracking, please click here.

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