BY STEVEN CHUA, THE CANADIAN PRESS MARCH 16, 2014
VANCOUVER — A coalition of environmental groups will be in a Vancouver court Monday arguing against the use of river and lake water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas.
The Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. have taken court action against B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission and energy company Encana Corp. (TSX:ECA).
The coalition alleges the commission has allowed up to millions of litres of fresh water annually to be drained from lakes, streams and rivers, where it’s then mixed with chemicals and sand and injected under high pressure into the ground to release natural gas.
The coalition claims the practice is a violation of the Water Act and is asking the court to rescind several short-term approvals the commission has issued to Encana.
At the heart of the matter is how water withdrawal permits are issued.
Morgan Blakley, a lawyer who represents the coalition, says his clients believe repeatedly granting short-term water withdrawal permits to the same company for the same reason is illegal.
“The commission grants short-term water rights to oil and gas companies over and over again,” he said. “If these oil and gas companies want water for more than two years they have to get a water licence.”
The Water Act allows the gas commission to grant water withdrawal permits for up to 24 months at a time without issuing a licence.
Blakley says his clients contend that granting successive permits to the same company for the same reasons is no different than exceeding the 24-month time limit.
The coalition alleges that the commission has repeatedly granted the energy company short-term approvals, with the earliest starting from December 2006 and the latest ending in May 2014.
Encana spokesman Jay Averill says that what the company is doing is legal.
“Encana believes there is no proper basis to quash the subject approvals given the proper interpretation of section 8 of the Water Act,” he wrote in an email statement.
The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission declined comment, citing the fact the case is before the courts.