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B.C.'s thirsty LNG industry is a threat to water supplies

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Graphic: Council of Canadians

On Monday, a consortium of big energy players made a final investment decision that approved LNG Canada, a $40-billion fracked gas project, paving the way for more fracking in B.C. This decision was made on the heels of water restrictions for fracking companies in the northeastern corner of the province due to drought.

CBC reports, "The LNG Canada project will see a pipeline carrying natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to a new processing plant on the coast in Kitimat. There, the gas would be liquefied for overseas export." The five primary investors include Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Malaysian-owned Petronas, PetroChina Co., and Korean Gas Corp. 

LNG project approved despite droughts, wildfires and need to curb climate change

Monday night's decision gives the green light to a very thirsty industry that will abuse even more water at a time when water supplies are unpredictable. 

As more than 500 forest fires burned across B.C. this summer, drought warnings were also issued throughout the province and across Canada. 

In August, the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) issued a directive for oil and gas companies to suspend water withdrawals used for fracking in the Peace River and Liard watersheds -- watersheds in the heart of B.C.'s fracking boom -- due to drought conditions. 

The BCOGC directive to suspend water takings for fracking was lifted only two weeks ago. 

The BCOGC  increased the amount of water permitted under water licences for fracking from 17,825,759 m3 in 2016 to 22,409,242 m3 in 2017.

The Wilderness Committee pointed out that subsidies to LNG Canada from the B.C. and federal government made this decision possible and prevent B.C. from reaching its climate goals. 

The Globe and Mail reported, "LNG Canada says it will create thousands of temporary jobs and hundreds of permanent ones in a region that has been an economic laggard." But Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver decried the announcement and said, "There may be as little as 100 permanent jobs at LNG Canada."

The creation of jobs is often falsely pitted against the protection of water and the environment. Read my blog on the five myths about the "fracking jobs versus environment" debate. 

Illegal fracking dams and Bill C-69 

The Narwhal points out, "The industry's growing need for fresh water has resulted in the construction of at least 90 unlicensed dams in northeast B.C." 

Last May, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that:

"A subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned petro giant courted by the B.C. government, has built at least 16 unauthorized dams in northern B.C. to trap hundreds of millions of gallons of water used in its controversial fracking operations. The 16 dams are among 'dozens' that have been built by Petronas and other companies without proper authorizations, a senior dam safety official with the provincial government told the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives."

These dams should also be regulated by the federal government but Harper's gutting of the former Navigable Waters Protection Act absolved the federal government from having to review projects like this.

The Trudeau government's new Bill C-69 -- now before the Senate -- was supposed to restore and strengthen protections on water and the environment that were lost under the Harper government. 

But the new Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA), one of the acts under Bill C-69, maintains the schedule of waterways that the former Harper government created and gives automatic protections to only 97 lakes, 64 rivers and three oceans. The CNWA also creates a confusing second category of "protected" waterways but most lakes, rivers and other waterways do not have the same protections as they did before 2012. 

The new CNWA would give the minister power to approve an activity after it has begun. This section combined with the creation of the confusing second category could give fracking companies a free pass to continue to build these illegal dams on unprotected waterways without requiring federal scrutiny.

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs condemn decision 

The Narwhal reports, "The project is supported by elected councils of 25 First Nations communities along the pipeline route and the Haisla First Nation, on whose traditional territory the LNG facility will be built. Several Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs oppose the project, pointing to tactics they say have created division and strife."

The proposed route of the LNG pipeline runs through Unist'ot'en territory. As noted on their website, the Unist'ot'en Camp is "an Indigenous re-occupation of Wet'suwet'en land in northern 'B.C., Canada.'"

The Unist'ot'en Camp posted on Facebook, "The Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs condemn ongoing attempts by the governments of British Columbia and Canada to force unwanted industrial projects onto Wet'suwet'en traditional territories (Yin'tah) by ignoring the jurisdiction and title of the Wet'suwet'en people as represented by the Hereditary Chiefs (Dinï ze' and Ts'akë ze')."

What about B.C.'s review on fracking?

In March, the B.C. government announced it was launching an independent scientific review of hydraulic fracturing. The Scientific Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel has been mandated to examine the impacts hydraulic fracturing has on water quantity and quality and the role that fracking has earthquakes in northeast B.C. The panel's recommendations are due at the end of this year. 

Premier John Horgan's unabashed support for the approval of LNG Canada raises troubling questions about his government's willingness to implement the panel's recommendations, especially if they point to a need to stop or phase out fracking projects.

Last November, the Council of Canadians joined 16 public health groups, other non-governmental organizations and First Nations to call for a full public inquiry on fracking, which is essential to get at what public policy changes are needed to eliminate the health and environmental risks associated with fracking. 

Governments must take bold action and leadership to protect the human right to water by stopping all new fossil fuel projects -- like banning LNG and fracking -- and achieving the needed just transition to a 100 per cent sustainable economy and society by 2050. 

In the meantime, it is frontline communities like the Unist'ot'en Camp that provide the most hope for water and climate justice and a 100 per cent sustainable economy and society.

Emma Lui is a Water Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. This article was first posted on the Council of Canadians blog.

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