British Columbia's Environmental Appeal Board has overturned a water licence granted to a company for shale gas fracking in northeastern British Columbia, ruling the licence was based on bad science and bad faith.
The long term water licence granted in 2012 allowed Nexen Inc. to pump 1.4 million cubic metres of water a year from Tsea Lake and Tsea River, located about 100 kilometres northeast of Fort Nelson.
The Fort Nelson First Nation successfully challenged the licence.
In its ruling, the board said the science behind the licence is fundamentally flawed. It also ruled the province acted in bad faith when it did not properly consult with the Fort Nelson First Nation, breaching a constitutional duty to consider potential adverse effects of the water licence.
The chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation, Liz Logan, said the ruling sends a clear message to oil companies and the B.C. government that the liquefied natural gas industry will not proceed at the expense of the environment and treaty rights.
"They saw that we were just getting lip service to these concerns we were raising," Logan said in a statement issued on Tuesday morning. "Officials were deciding on the outcome before they even consulted with us. And the board relied on internal emails that they got which show that the officials were going through the motions of meeting with us just to show that they were responding to us.
"Granting this licence was a major mistake by the province," Logan added. "Our members have always used the Tsea Lake area in our territory to hunt, trap, and live on the land. The company pumped water out of the lake, even during drought conditions. There were major impacts on the lake, fish, beavers, and surrounding environment.
"We want to work with the province and industry on sustainable development in our territory, but we are being ignored," Logan said. "We have in the past, and are willing to do so moving forward, as long as our treaty rights are respected and the public interest in environmentally sustainable development is upheld."
Government could appeal
The B.C. government said it was reviewing the board's decision and considering next steps, which could include an application for judicial review through the B.C. Supreme Court.
"B.C. has one of the most up-to-date regulatory frameworks in the world for shale gas development, which is regularly reviewed and updated to ensure public safety and protect the environment," a statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said.
"Government takes its duty to consult seriously and remains committed to working closely with local First Nations throughout the province on resource development."
In a statement to CBC, Nexen said it is reviewing the decision, and it won't have any immediate impact on its operations since declining gas prices have already slowed its fracking operations in the region.