By GORDON HAMILTON, Vancouver Sun January 9, 2012
The British Columbia government made good on its promise to provide online details starting Jan. 1 about chemicals being pumped underground by the oil and gas industry when it activated a database called FracFocus.ca.
But companies involved in hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract oil and gas won’t be required to post information until 30 days after they have completed the process, one of several flaws in Victoria’s promise to provide transparent accounting of fracking practices, according to critic Ben Parfitt.
The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, which is responsible for the site, confirmed Monday that although the website is up and running, it will be at least one or two months before data begins to appear as the posting deadline is 30 days after the completion of operations at specific well sites. Only operations that ended after the Jan. 1 introduction of the posting regulation will appear on the site.
That means residents of northeastern British Columbia won’t know what’s been pumped into the ground beneath them until the fracking is over, Parfitt, natural resources analyst at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said in an interview.
“From a public interest perspective, I would far rather see a commitment to disclosing before fracking operations even commence, what products they are proposing to pump underground and what volume. They should be able to tell us that. From a health and safety perspective that would be far more effective than what they are proposing now,”
Premier Christy Clark promised the online link to identify chemicals used in fracking last September at the oil and gas industry’s annual conference at Fort Nelson.
Hardy Friedrich, communications manager at the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, said the purpose of the website is to provide the public with information on the chemical composition of the fluids being pumped underground in fracking, the fracture date, the volume of water being used and the well’s identifying number. However, if the chemicals being used are proprietary — as is the case with much of hydraulic fracturing underway in North America — the composition of those specific compounds can be exempted under the federal Hazardous Information Review Act
Time will tell, Parfitt said, just how useful the website is in providing information on chemicals used in fracking.
“It’s going to be 30 days before we see what level of detail is posted here.”
Parfitt said despite the flaws, the website is an important step in broadening public discussion in the province about fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing is described by the oil and gas commission as the process of creating small cracks, or fractures, in deeply buried geological formations to allow natural gas to flow into the wellbore.
The natural gas can then flow to the surface under controlled conditions through the wellhead and be collected for processing and distribution.
It is accomplished by pumping under high pressure a mixture of water, sand and other chemical additives designed to protect the integrity of the wellbore and enhance production.
The process requires huge volumes of water — up into the millions of litres per well.
Although the chemical component can account for as little as .5 per cent of the fluid, volumes can be in the thousands of litres given the amount of water being injected underground, Parfitt said.
He also said disclosure of the volumes of water being used is an important piece of information that will now be open to public discussion.
He noted that two companies alone applied for and received water licences for 10,000 cubic metres of water a day for their operations.
“That just gives a partial flavour for the total amount of water that could be in play,” he said.
The website is similar in content to and is based on a U.S. website with the same name, FracFocus.org.