British Columbia

BC Hydro says concerns about fracking near dams overblown

BC Hydro says claims that the utility company had been 'privately concerned' about fracking near its dams for years are simply overblown.

A new CCAP report said BC Hydro had been 'privately concerned' about fracking near its dams for years

The Peace Canyon dam — located on the Peace River — was singled out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report as a dam of concern due to fracking. (B.C. Hydro)

BC Hydro has responded to claims by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that the Crown corporation has been "privately concerned" for years about the risk of dam collapse due to fracking. 

Report author Ben Parfitt used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents and emails between the utility company and B.C. Oil and Gas Commission which he said documented BC Hydro's fears about fracking near dams.

BC Hydro deputy CEO Chris O'Riley spoke with Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

He said concerns about dam safety due to fracking are overblown, adding that BC Hydro's dams are constructed to withstand earthquakes much much larger than those induced by fracking.

Chris O'Riley, deputy CEO of BC Hydro, responded to a new report by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that the utility company had expressed concerns about fracking near its dams. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

"There's not currently, nor has been any fracking near BC Hydro dams in the Peace or anywhere for that matter."

The province maintains a five kilometer fracking exclusionary zone around dams, something that Parfitt described as a tenuous "gentlemen's agreement".

O'Riley dismissed these concerns, saying "we have no reason to believe they would not hold with that".

He further clarified why the zone exists.

The five kilometer exclusionary zone around dams are not because of concerns to dam integrity, he said, but to address concerns about operational and maintenance issues that could arise as the result of fracking.

When pressed as to why the zone is five kilometers specifically, O'Riley said that the five kilometers was "a good precautionary measure".

"We understand our dams very well, and we understand the seismic risks to our dams. We've come to a very strong conclusion that this is not a dam safety issue and this is not a public safety issue."

Not a secret discussion

O'Riley also disagreed with the allegation discussions between BC Hydro and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission took place away from public scrutiny.

"I actually don't think its true to call these secret or behind-closed-door discussions," he said. "We have been transparent about this issue."

O'Riley said that the utility company has been open about monitoring seismic risks to its dams, pointing out their publicly available seismic risk study.

He added that the issue of seismic activity caused by fracking was specifically discussed during the Site C joint review panel.

"We responded to those questions in particular, we disclosed the discussion that we were having with the oil and gas commission on fracking."

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled BC Hydro responds to CCPA fracking report