Column from MLA Pat Pimm

 

I would like to respond to the ongoing discussion around the water issue in the Peace country and Northern Rockies. There has been a point made that there are currently 20 long term licenses that the Government is considering issuing for shale gas operations in the FNFN traditional territory without any kind of credible process to identify the long term impacts to the land, families and Community.
 
While it is true that there are licenses being applied for, it must also be noted that many of the licenses are currently in the First nations Consultation process that deals with these licenses. I would also say that these licenses should really be viewed in the context of the entire water license picture. As of Dec 2011, there are 362 long term water licenses that have been issued over time in the Peace River and Northern Rockies
area. These do not include licenses for BC Hydro for the Peace/Williston reservoir. I am including a link to the OGC annual water report for 2011 for detail on the various “purposes” and Oilfield licenses: http://bcogc.ca/
document.aspx?documentID=1252&type=.pdf. As of Dec 2011, the 362 water licenses allow for an annual withdrawal of 196,428,356 cubic metres of water. In contrast for 2011, short term water use approvals issued by the Oil and Gas Commission for the entire Peace River and Northern Rockies regions totaled about 28,000,000 cubic metres, with about 3,800,000 cubic meters of water that was actually used. To put that amount in perspective, the Community of Ft St John uses about the same 4,000,000 cubic meters of water annually. The Oil and Gas commission makes it mandatory for its Oil and Gas customers to monitor
the amount of water that is being used under its short term licenses and the Oil and Gas Commission is considering requiring a water management plan from oil and gas operators in northeast BC associated with all short-term water use applications and approvals.
 
At a broader level there are some water planning strategies also under way in the Northeast. MEM is leading the development of a shale-gas water strategy as part of the province’s Shale Gas Strategy and FLNRO
/ MOE are leading the development of a Northeast Water Strategy that covers non-oil and gas water use. Finally, the province is working on a Trans-boundary Water Agreement with Alberta.
 
FLNRO has initiated the Northeast BC Water Stewardship Coordination Project and one of the objectives of this project will be a Northeast BC Water Stewardship Plan. FLNRO currently has 34 Water Licence applications in the queue in Northeastern BC and these are for a variety of purposes including:
Power (1)
Conservation (1)
Irrigation (5)
Water Delivery (1)
Stock Watering (2)
Domestic (1)
Mining related Purposes (coal) (3)
 
Processing (1)
Oilfield Injection (19)
FLNRO is currently reviewing all (14) of the non-oil and gas related
licenses and one of the oilfied injections applications.
Of the 20 applications for oil and gas purposes (oilfield injection and
processing), 18 are in the Northern Rockies regional District – Liard area
and 2 are in the Dawson Creek Water Precinct.
 
All water licenses have conditions for monitoring actual volumes of water withdrawn by each licensee, however the recent water licenses for oil and gas use have included conditions for reporting actual water volumes in
consideration of the larger volumes being licensed. Previous licenses have included conditions that volumes must be recorded and provided to the Regional Water Manager upon request. The Water Act requires licensees to maintain records and produce those records for inspection when required. The Water Act also states that a Declaration of Beneficial Use must be provided at the request of the Regional Water Manager.
 
There has also been some discussion that the Fort Nelson River is going to be dammed off and water diverted for a one of the licenses. I can honestly say that the Fort Nelson River will not be dammed off under
any circumstance. What is being discussed is that there would be a permanent water intake that would extend approximately 20 metres into the Fort Nelson River from the north bank side. The Fort Nelson River is
approximately 240m wide at this location at normal high water levels, and the design is described as a vertical sheet pile and earth fill protrusion. The anchor walls will run into the river banks at angles. The top of the
intake structure slopes down from the top of bank to minimize hydraulic obstruction during flood flow, and levels off above the withdrawal bays to provide a maintenance access platform. Armouring will be used on top of the earth fill and at the toe of the structure to limit scour, and the intake will be screened according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada guidelines to prevent impingement or entrainment of fish. A backwash system will be installed to clean the screens of small debris, sediment clogging, and ice build-up. Safety warning signs will be posted upstream and downstream of the structure and a buoy will mark the nose of the intake. Intake systems involving significant works in a river are designed and constructed under the guidance of a Professional Engineer. Natural gas development in the Horn River Basin is done in all seasons and this permanent license would allow the Oil Company to withdraw water from the River during high flows instead of being forced to the lower flow times during the winter months. Most water licenses across BC operate in all months (except irrigation licenses).
 
The producer currently has a section 8 approval for the Fort Nelson River for withdrawals only during the winter season, this was done to allow the Producer to set up their pump on the frozen river as a temporary intake
The Producer and most of the other Producers applying for water licenses have indicated a need to be flexible with the timing of water use to accommodate the variable nature of drilling and completions operations, well development and completion timing operations and other factors including market, crew availability, weather etc that can influence timing of projects.
 
A permanent intake and associated storage would allow the Producer to remove water throughout the year to meet their water requirements. A year round authorization allows them to slow or cease water withdrawals
during lower flow periods. This flexibility and associated storage is preferred for large volume water licences.
 
In the Horn River gas lease area (Horn River), operators are currently using about 100,000 cubic metres of water for each completion (i.e., hydraulic fracturing) of an individual gas well. 3 million cubic metres provides for about 30 wells, which is approximately 2 – 3 well pads per year. The annual discharge of water at the point in question on the Fort Nelson River is about 12.4 trillion cubic metres per year. The 3 million cubic metres represents 0.024 percent of annual runoff. The Oil and Gas Commission has done cumulative effects modeling of all potential withdrawals on the Fort Nelson River based on an average scale development scenario for that area, and the total amount of water that is projected to be used is about 0.1 percent of annual runoff.
 
For all licenses issued in the last 12 months to oil and gas operators, (and there have only been 4), the terms of the license range from 5 years to 20 years. Longer terms are usually given when significant capital cost is
involved for pipelines and facilities to move the water. For water licenses generally there can be a 40 year license specified in the Water Act, but these licenses only “for power purposes” (ie. electric or other power projects). There have been many historical water licenses issued throughout the province that have no term – they exist in perpetuity.
 
Water license holders have environmental and water management conditions as part of their license (which can include low flow thresholds to protect water needs of the environment). Short term water use approvals issued by the Oil and Gas Commission have environmental conditions, such as suspending withdrawals during period of drought. The Commission suspended most withdrawals in northeast BC on Aug 2, 2012
and partially ended the suspension on Nov 12, 2012 when the flows were at a higher level. There are a number of other legislative requirements designed to protect environmental values that could also apply to those extracting water. These are contained in the Water Act, Federal Fisheries Act, Drinking Water Protection Act, Fish Protection Act, etc. Last year was one of the worst drought years on record and so there are several reasons other than Oilfield withdrawl for streams to appear to be at all time lows during the mid summer months. 
 
I will continue to try and deliver facts around water availability and use so that we hear both sides of the stories.
 
Pat Pimm-MLA, Peace River North
About Erica Fisher 4010 Articles

Erica is a reporter for Moose FM and energeticcity.ca in Fort St. John, B.C. She grew up in Victoria, B.C. and received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.