British Columbia

B.C. First Nations to be consulted on fracking

B.C.'s energy regulator has agreed to consult with First Nations groups before it allows oil and gas companies to use fresh water for natural gas drilling.

B.C.'s energy regulator has agreed to consult with First Nations groups before it allows oil and gas companies to use fresh water for natural gas drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — uses pressurized water and chemicals to blast natural gas out of underground rocks.

Until now, aboriginal communities in northeastern B.C. haven't had a say in the use of nearby rivers and lakes for fracking.

But that's about to change, says Tom Ouellette, director of First Nations relations with the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.  He says First Nations will now be consulted on short-term water use, due to a growing demand from the industry.

The commission is currently issuing the gas industry more than 50 water permits a month, a number that's expected to rise.

"Historically, the water use associated with natural gas activities was relatively low. So, in those cases we were not consulting."

What is fracking?

  • Hydraulic fracturing, or "hydro-fracking," is a form of natural gas extraction in which a pressurized mix of water and other substances is injected into shale rock formations or coal beds to release trapped natural gas.
  • A fluid mixture of water and chemicals is injected under high pressure deep underground, creating or widening fissures in the rock.
  • Then, sand or other solids, often ceramic beads, are pumped in to keep the fissures propped open so that methane gas can escape from pores and fractures in the rock.

"Now, we're seeing the larger volumes [of water] and there's some potential impacts so we have to consult with the communities."

Ouellette says water use could negatively affect treaty or aboriginal rights, a fear shared by Halfway River First Nation Chief Ed Whitford. His community is surrounded by gas drilling.

"The freshwater, everyone says it's such a precious resource....and the next thing you know it's being sucked up into one of them [gas] trucks and it's gone," said Whitford.

"We've caught them lots of times taking out of the river, we really don't know how much water they're using."

The consultations will start Oct. 20. Industry will be required to notify the Oil and Gas Commission of its fracking plans, so the commission can then consult with First Nations.

With files from the CBC's Betsy Trumpener

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