Urban and industrial consumers enjoy the benefits of natural gas while residents of northeastern B.C. bear the costs: report

The natural gas sector in northeastern British Columbia is booming. But its thirst for water violates First Nations’ rights, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The paper, by Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the CCPA’s B.C. office, examines the industry’s intensive water use in drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

As Parfitt points out, in 2015, Progress Energy—a subsidiary of state-owned Malaysian energy giant Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas)—pumped some 160,000 cubic metres of water underground at a fracking operation north of Fort St. John. That’s more than eight times what a typical U.S. operation uses, he notes, adding that water demand will spike if a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry emerges in B.C.

First Nations in northeastern B.C. are signatories to Treaty 8, which commits the Crown to protecting hunting, fishing and trapping rights that partly depend on healthy waterways. But they “see little evidence that the industry or the provincial government take seriously the Crown’s obligation to consult with them about developments on their traditional lands, or to fully appreciate the nature and scope of their treaty rights,” Parfitt writes.

Among his 10 recommendations: enact co-management regimes in which First Nations and the provincial government work together; create drill- and frack-free zones, including protected areas where First Nations can fully exercise their rights; and charge more for industrial water use, investing the money raised in water studies and better water protection.