A coalition of environmental, community and First Nation organizations is calling on the B.C. NDP to broaden a campaign promise to review fracking by instead ordering a full public inquiry or commission.

During the spring provincial election campaign, the NDP announced it would appoint a scientific panel to review the hydraulic fracturing process to ensure that gas is produced safely and the environment is protected, but the coalition suggests that review wouldn't go far enough.

In a letter issued Monday, the coalition says recent revelations about the fracking process should serve as an impetus for an inquiry.

Namely, it points to escalating usage of water by fracking companies, poor or misleading consultations with First Nations, the construction of dozens of allegedly unlicensed dams and record-setting earthquakes at B.C. fracking operations.  

"A public inquiry generally has a lot more powers to look into things … where there are full public meetings, where experts are compelled to testify under oath and where we have adequate funding to see experts hired as needed to report to that panel," said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), one of the 17 groups forming the coalition.  

The coalition proposes an inquiry should investigate public health and the safety risks of fracking, impacts to the environment, critical infrastructure, greenhouse gas emissions, monitoring by B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission and consultations with First Nations. 

Recent revelations about fracking process

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the fracturing of shale rock beds deep in the earth using water and other additives at a high pressure in order to release natural gas deposits. 

In August 2015, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake was caused by Progress Energy's gas fracking site northwest of Fort St. John, according to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. 

Earlier this year, the CCPA, a left-leaning think tank, claimed it had uncovered unlicensed dams in northeast B.C. It has also highlighted the increased use of fresh water and contamination by fracking operations 

One dam C.C.P.A. claims is 'unauthorized'

The B.C. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says it has discovered dozens of unlicensed dams in northeast B.C., where water is being used for fracking activities. (Garth Lenz/CCPABC)

Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Petronas, is seeking retroactive exemption of its Lily and Town dams from environmental reviews after the Environmental Assessment Office determined that they had been operating without a certificate. 

"We are deeply troubled that this dam building free-for-all occurred on First Nation lands, that First Nations were not fully consulted about the true size and extent of these dams, and that our Indigenous title rights and treaty rights are still completely ignored or denied," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

Risks to public health and environment

The head of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment raised concerns in the coalition's letter about the effects of fracking on public health. 

"Recent studies have demonstrated an increase in premature births, asthma and congenital heart defects in people who live close to U.S. fracking operations," said Dr. Larry Barzelai.

"Can we be assured that the same complications will not occur in B.C.?"

Environmental groups form the bulk of the coalition, among them the David Suzuki Foundation, which laments the lack information being provided to the public concerning the environmental damage.

"Our peer-reviewed research shows that methane pollution from B.C.'s oil and gas sector, mainly fracked gas, is at least 2.5 times larger than what both industry and the B.C. government report," said Ian Bruce, director of science and policy for the foundation.

Government response

Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minster Michelle Mungall said the province is aware of the concerns around hydraulic fracturing. 

"We will act on our commitment and appoint a scientific panel to review hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia. This will include looking at impacts on water and the relationship to seismic activity." 

The coalition is asking people to sign a petition calling on the provincial government to launch a public inquiry.

With files from The Early Edition