How protected is the TR aquifer? Council looks for answers

Lynsey Kitching


Fracking has become a very popular topic of discussion, particularly when talking about water protection. Recently the province released a new draft water protection plan, which for the first time, outlined ways for groundwater to be protected and monitored. Thought the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) had already some tracking tools and fees in place, government and the public want to see more.

Groundwater protection is an important topic, however, the questions Council had for the province in regards to how the Tumbler Ridge aquifer is protected still remain to be answered.

Mayor Wren and Council recently met with Minister Rich Coleman from the Ministry of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing and Deputy Premier. In their discussion they talked about fracking, but more importantly, how to protect the Tumbler Ridge aquifer from contamination from industry.

Minister Coleman then followed up with Council through a letter, thanking them for their meeting. The letter went on to explain a little about the process of fracking and how groundwater and aquifers are protected during the fracking process.

But, what Council was looking for was how the Tumbler Ridge aquifer gets protected, period. This was not addressed in the letter from Minister Coleman.

Councillor Mackay says, “We were looking at protecting our aquifer, just that surrounding area. It is for good reason. Pennsylvania has 106 confirmed contaminations, doing the exact same work we see being doing here. Our aquifer has more than one hazard. It is right on the highway and it is susceptible to all of the different spills from all the different fuels that go through that way. All we were asking was to protect that area. The reply from the minister didn’t really address that. It was more general to what is taking place in the province.”

Councillor McPherson touched on the issue that he would like to have someone come in to Council so they can ask their questions. He says, “I’ve worked in the oil industry. I would like us to get someone from the OCG to come in here and give us the low down on fracking and let us ask questions, get a handle on it, then write Minister Coleman a letter with us having some intelligence to it. Personally, I don’t understand the fracking process. Rich Coleman told us at the meeting, ‘you guys have been watching too much TV.’ That is the attitude we are going to get unless we go back with some real information.”

Councillor Mackay agreed and pointed to his concerns about the quantity of water being used. He says, “The quantity of fresh water being used, they say it’s ok because we’re reusing the water, well, every time you put it down and bring it back up, it’s just that much more polluted, and then what do you do with it after that? It’s the quantity of water. They were looking at running a pipeline from Williston Lake, to feed what is taking place east of Fort Nelson. That is how big of a deal this thing is. When they start talking about that amount of water actually being diverted, it’s not too far behind what we’re looking at for hydro. All those problems in the states? It’s the same guys who are in our backyards saying it’s safe. We need someone to come here and provide some information for us and the residents of Tumbler Ridge.” Councillor Mackay continues, “You try and get along with your provincial counterparts, but when you have a response like this that doesn’t address the issues, and the attitude that was taken by this minister, I’m not satisfied at all.”

On this note, Councillor Caisley suggested Council invite representatives from both sides of the question, experts, to come in at the same time, listening to each other’s presentations and have Council then ask questions.

Council does have a consultant in mind who has done presentations in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John surrounding Fracking. Mayor Wren says, “It’s worth sending out the invitation to both sides.”

Staff has been directed to setup the presentations. Stay tuned as we try and learn from the province if and how the Tumbler Ridge aquifer can be protected.