Research funding dries up for Fracking and Water

The impacts of fracking on groundwater is one of the research areas of the  Program on Water Issues (POWI) at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs, “one of the nation’s most celebrated and effective water study programs ” which brought together Canada’s “best scientists and policy-makers … in an independent, non-partisan forum”.   Now, after supporting the program for 15 years,  the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation have announced an end to their support. Although no official reason has been given for the decision,  a report  by Andrew Nikoforuk in The Tyee (April 19)  suggests that  research into fracking may have been a factor in the decision. Other research topics pursued at POWI included water withdrawals from the Athabasca River by the oil sands industry, groundwater monitoring, carbon capture and storage, climate change, the future of the Columbia River Treaty, and bulk water exports.

Also: An April report from Environment America, Fracking by the Numbers: the Damage to Our Water, Land and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling   catalogues a host of  dangers, including contaminated drinking water, depletion of scarce water resources; and air pollution and methane leaks in the U.S.  And speaking of contamination of water, see also a new report by Environmental Defence-  Energy East: A Risk to our Drinking Water , which documents the nature and proximity of  the proposed pipeline to major municipal and community drinking water supplies in four provinces.

Controversial New Water Legislation Introduced in B.C.

The B.C. Government introduced Bill 18, the Water Sustainability Act, on March 11th. It updates the current legislation passed in 1909, and “will bring groundwater into the licensing system, and will expand government’s ability to protect fish and aquatic environments “. See http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/ for the legislation and all supporting documents.

In a November 2013 posting during the lengthy consultation phase, the government had outlined how the proposed changes would impact oil and gas development, including a pledge that “in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations” (see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2013/11/14/blog-post-6-water-and-oil-gas-development/). Yet on March 19, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. went before the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that Encana has systematically avoided the current water licensing regulations by applying to the provincial Oil and Gas Commission for repeated “short term” water permits for fracking (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/encana-s-water-permits-for-b-c-fracking-illegal-lawsuit-alleges-1.2578788).

The aspect of pricing commercial and industrial water use has been deferred by a period of further consultations; see the consultation paper, Pricing B.C.’s Water, at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/files/2014/03/Pricing-B.C.s-Water.pdf. Public comments will be accepted until April 8th.