NDP wants gas drilling rules tightened

NDP critics want to tighten the rules and take a close look at the environmental effects of the newest form of deep drilling.

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming and energy critic John Horgan want an independent scientific review of B.C.'s shale gas industry.

VICTORIA – With shale gas booming and work beginning for pipelines and export facilities in northern B.C., the NDP wants to tighten the rules and take a closer look at the environmental effects of the newest form of deep drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” injects large amounts of water and chemicals deep underground to crack shale layers and release trapped gas. Much of that contaminated water comes back up with the gas, where it must be collected and treated.

NDP energy critic John Horgan and environment critic Rob Fleming are calling for an end to short-term water permits issued by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the formation of an scientific panel to examine the cumulative effects of widespread drilling and fracking.

“I think the notion that water’s free, that water is there for their use unreservedly is past, and the time for a scientific assessment of the impacts of the industry has arrived,” Horgan said.

They also want a review of the carbon dioxide emissions from shale gas development, and the effect on B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The B.C. Liberal government has promised a health and safety study of effects of the booming gas industry on air and groundwater, to begin by the end of the year.

“Because water is the major concern at this point in time with hydraulic fracturing and the unconventional natural gas sector, we’re looking at changing the way B.C. currently does business, closing some loopholes, or temporary practices that have become a standard way of doing business,” Fleming said.

Horgan said the NDP is not calling for a halt to the sale of drilling rights or a moratorium on development. The scientific panel should hold public hearings in northeastern B.C. to hear from residents affected by drilling, water treatment ponds and pipelines on farmland.

Shale layers in northeastern B.C. are three kilometres or more underground. Horgan said he does not believe these deep layers represent a threat to groundwater, as with shallow coalbed methane deposits that can contaminate well water and make it flammable.

He said the B.C. government should continue to fund a farmers’ advocacy group in the Peace region, and have all water permits issued by the natural resources ministry.