British Columbia

Fracking, landslide blamed for contamination of Northern B.C. creek

A landslide contaminating drinking water for a town in northeastern British Columbia, by filling a creek with dangerous heavy metals is sparking renewed fear around fracking.

B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission says 'no evidence' that fracking to blame, heavy metals naturally in soil

A landslide in B.C.'s Peace region is fuelling fears and blame around fracking. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

A relentless landslide that's contaminated a source of drinking water near a community in northeastern B.C. has residents blaming oil and gas exploration's effects underground for causing the slide that's contaminating the creek with silt and heavy metals.

Farmers and ranchers near Hudson's Hope say they've lost their sole water source and blame landslides on changes to underground aquifers and land stability because of nearby fracking and the effect of two nearby hydro dams, but officials say there is no proof of this.

There's "no evidence" that five fracking and disposal wells in the area are associated with the landslide.- internal report prepared by B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission

"I have no water," said Rhee Simpson, who has lived and farmed along Brenot Creek for 62 years.

"You can't play in it. You can't fish in it. You can't drink it. Your stock can't drink it. Someone has to do something to get our water back."

Brenot Creek has long carried clean water to families, crops and cattle near Hudson's Hope in northeastern B.C. The creek is a tributary of Lynx Creek, whose water eventually flows into the nearby Peace River.

Last year, a landslide started oozing grey mud, filling the creek with silt and sand. Tests by the Ministry of the Environment showed dangerously high concentrations of heavy metals, including lead, barium, cadmium, and arsenic.

In September 2014, the District of Hudson's Hope and Northern Health issued an advisory to stop using the creek's water for drinking, stock watering or farm irrigation.

"Clean water is essential for life and all of us need to feel confident that the ground and surface water we all depend on is of good quality. We will continue to press for answers to how exotic metals came to be present in the groundwater," Mayor Gwen Johansson wrote on the District of Hudson's Hope website in January.

Since then, debris has continued to slide, filling the creek with heavy metal silts and sand.

"My wife grew up on that farm and used to catch fish in that creek. It's dead. It's hard to watch," said resident Leigh Summer.

The mayor said this summer there was so much heavy metal silt it created a visible debris plume and sandbar in the Peace River.

It's a real concern.- Mayor Gwen Johansson, Hudson's Hope

Johansson continues to search for answers as to why this is happening and who will pay for any clean-up.

"There's a lot of vulnerabilities in this area as far as water is concerned." she told CBC News. "It's a real concern."

In the past, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the region has triggered earthquakes. Fracking, is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure deep underground to break rock and free gas.

However, an internal report prepared by B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission, and obtained by CBC News, states there's "no evidence" that five fracking and disposal wells in the area are associated with the landslide. The report also notes a "prevalence of natural metals" in the soil and historic instability in the area.

"I have no water," said Rhee Simpson, who has lived and farmed along Brenot Creek for 62 years

The commission says the heavy metals found in the silts and sands of the creek occur naturally and the area is prone to landslides.

In an email to CBC News, commission spokesman Alan Clay says heavy metals were present in the region's soil prior to oil and gas activity.

In response to queries from CBC News, David Karn from the Ministry of Environment says several government ministries will now tour the slide zone to re-assess the situation and re-test local water.

Residents says landslide continues

Meanwhile, Simpson's neighbour, Leigh Summer says the slide is so unusual he calls it "landsliding."

"This thing is continuous," Summer said.

It's dead. It's hard to watch.- Leigh Summer

"It's been 24 hours a day for two years. Stuff is literally falling in there as you stand there and watch."

"We can no longer water," he said, breaking into tears. "We can longer irrigate, we can no longer allow our children to play in the creek."

"My wife grew up on that farm and used to catch fish in that creek. It's dead. It's hard to watch really."

Summer and Simpson blame the pressures of nearby industries — two BC Hydro dams with the Williston reservoir, and a high-density fracking zone. Summer said he believes those industries may have had an impact on the underground aquifers.

Simpson agreed. "Where is the chemicals and junk coming from?" he asked. "I highly believe it's coming from the fracking. I personally think what they pushed into the ground, has got to come up."


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