VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think-tank based in Vancouver, says that Progress Energy has built at least 16 dams in northeast B.C. to hold water used for fracking operations without the proper approvals.
In a press release, the CCPA says that two of the dams built by Progress are taller than a five-story apartment building, which means they qualify as “reviewable” projects by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office and should have been assessed before being built. However, the CCPA says that the EAO was never contacted before the dams were built, and is only now investigating five years after construction began. The report adds that in 13 other cases, Progress has retroactively applied for water licenses and dam approvals with the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.
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CCPA resource policy analyst Ben Parfitt began an investigation in March after receiving a tip, including visiting one of the dams. His report says that the regulatory system overseeing water usage in B.C.’s energy sector has undergone a breakdown.
“The sheer number of these structures is troubling,” says Parfitt. “The companies did not submit engineering designs to provincial dam safety officials before building them. One dam has already shown signs of failing and was shut down. How many more unsafe structures are out there? And how much environmental harm are all these structures causing?”
Parfitt says the risk of dam failures may be increased because the dams are built near natural gas fracking operations. In 2015, Progress triggered a magnitude 4.6 earthquake it pumped 160,000 cubic metres of water below ground in a fracking operation.
The CCPA added that it has learned that dam safety officials with the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations have known of problems for months, along with EAO and OGC investigators, but those officials have not issued any public news releases or advisories regarding the situation.
When asked for comment, BC OGC spokesperson Phil Rygg said that the provincial agency is only going to be providing publicly available data and information during the writ period in order to remain impartial. According to the OGC’s 2016 Q2 Enforcement Summary, Progress was ordered to remove excess water from a storage structure, and submit engineering assessments and structural integrity certifications for the dam. “The Commission is not aware of any dams that require immediate corrective action in the field,” added Rygg.
Energeticcity.ca also reached out to two Progress Energy spokespersons, but they have not yet returned phone calls.