A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says fracking — and the earthquakes it can cause — may threaten dam infrastructure in northeastern B.C..
Some of B.C. Hydro’s biggest dams are found in the Peace Region. It’s an area dotted with natural gas operations — many of which now rely on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract the gas. The utility operates its huge W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon Dam on the Peace River and is building its Site C Dam on the same river.
In Peace Canyon Frack-Up, report author Ben Parfitt, details concerns about nearby fracking from within B.C. Hydro, based on documents gathered through Freedom of Information requests.
The documents, which have been shared with CBC News, show B.C. Hydro dam safety specialist Scott Gilliss repeatedly raising the issue of earthquakes caused by fracking, the increase of nearby fracking activity and dam safety with superiors.
Gilliss is told his “broken record” warnings have been heard and brought to the “highest level” — provincial ministers.
But according to Parfitt’s report, that’s as far as it went. Gilliss was told it was a “dead issue.”
In 2016, CBC News covered Parfitt’s work and similar warnings he uncovered at the time, but the resource policy analyst says he has gathered much more information in three years worth of additional FOI requests.
“We have learned that there are much greater risks to B.C. Hydro’s dams, and in particular its Peace Canyon Dam, should earthquakes occur near the dams,” he said. “The Peace Canyon Dam has known foundational problems, that there is an increased risk to damage to that dam by nearby earthquakes.”
In November 2018, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake — believed to be caused by fracking — was felt at the Site C Dam construction site which led to a brief work stoppage and inspection to ensure there was no damage.
When Parfitt’s warnings were first aired, Chris O’Riley, then deputy CEO of B.C. Hydro, said concerns about risks from fracking were overblown. Now, despite the new documents, the utility’s position is unchanged.
“We don’t believe there’s any concern for the safety of our dams,” said Bob Schubak, director of dam safety at B.C. Hydro. “We would acknowledge that a very close earthquake would cause some damage to our equipment.”
But he said damage would be limited to shutting down power generation — not anything that would compromise the structural integrity of the Peace Canyon Dam which is just upriver from the town of Hudson’s Hope.
Peace Canyon Dam issues
Parfitt said that B.C. Hydro ought to immediately undertake seismic upgrades to ensure disaster doesn’t strike at Peace Canyon Dam.
According to Schubak, the utility is already considering work to bring the dam, which was completed in 1980, up to modern seismic standards. He said upgrade projects are expected in the late 2020s.
Parfitt also called on the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates fracking operations, to ban all fracking within 10 kilometres of hydroelectric dams.
The commission said in a written statement that there are no fracking wells within five kilometres of any B.C. Hydro dam, and none within 10 kilometres of the W.A.C. Bennett or Peace Canyon dams.
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