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Gas industry may have built 100s of unregulated dams in Northern B.C.: Report

Company seeks licenses for at least 13 dams it has already built. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative says that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A dam used by gas companies for water storage in northern B.C.

Contributed/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

A dam used by gas companies for water storage in northern B.C.

There could be hundreds of unauthorized dams being operated by gas companies in northern British Columbia, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The left-leaning think tank released a report Tuesday morning alleging Petronas-owned Progress Energy built and operated at least 16 dams for its fracking operations – some as far back as 2012 – without approval from either the Environmental Assessment Office or the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

Progress Energy applied for 13 water licenses for dams it had already built on Dec. 23, 2016.

Two more are currently being investigated by the Environmental Assessment Office.

Another one was ordered shut down by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission last year pending “engineering assessment and certification of structural integrity”.

Parfitt says the dams are operating without proper water licenses and have not been deemed safe by government.

“We have evidence now that numerous dams, in some cases very large dams, were built under the government’s watch without anything being done about it,” Parfitt told Metro. “Either provincial government personnel were aware these structures were being built without proper authorizations [and ignored them] or they were unaware that these structures were being built. In either case, it doesn’t look very good.”

The CCPA report quotes Jim Mattison, the B.C.’s former comptroller of water rights, as saying there could be “200 or more” such facilities operating in the province.

“It certainly seems to indicate there’s been a very significant breakdown in government regulation of the industry,” Parfitt said.

Progress Energy provided Metro with a statement denying any of its dams have ever operated outside the law.

“Prior to 2016, Progress constructed 29 small-scale dams to store freshwater for use in its operations, all of which followed the requirements as defined by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission,” the statement from Progress Energy spokesperson David Sterna reads. “In 2016, the B.C. government enacted the Water Sustainability Act and corresponding regulations that included small-scale structures previously constructed by the oil and gas industry, which did not require long-term water licenses. To clarify, Progress Energy had the required short-term use authorizations in place. Progress has been working with regulators to ensure the dams comply with the new act since it was put in place.”

Parfitt argues that water licenses for surface water would still have been required under the old legislation.

Because of the provincial election, neither the Ministry of Environment nor the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission were able to comment on whether the dams are operating legally or not.

However, the commission said in an email it “is not aware of any dams that require immediate corrective action in the field” when it comes to safety concerns.

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