Ben Parfitt

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Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, author and co-author of two books on forestry issues, and an award-winning investigative journalist.

A Dam Big Problem: Fracking Companies Build Dozens of Unauthorized Dams in B.C.'s Northeast

A subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned petro giant courted by the B.C. government, has built at least 16 unauthorized dams in northern B.C. to trap hundreds of millions of gallons of water used in its controversial fracking operations.

The 16 dams are among “dozens” that have been built by Petronas and other companies without proper authorizations, a senior dam safety official with the provincial government told the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which began investigating the problem in late March after receiving a tip from someone with knowledge of how widespread the problem is.

Two of the dams built by Progress Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petronas, are towering earthen structures that exceed the height of five-storey apartment buildings. Petronas has proposed building a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Prince Rupert, which if built would result in dramatic increases in fracking and industrial water use throughout northeast B.C.

The two dams are so large that they should have been subject to review by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). Only if a review concluded that the projects could proceed would the EAO have issued a certificate, and only then could the company have moved on to get the necessary authorizations from other provincial agencies.

But nothing close to that happened because the company never submitted its plans to the EAO before the dams were built.

Fracking, Earthquakes and Hydro Dams? Don’t Worry, We Have an Understanding.

By Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Tweet: .@BCHydro falls short compared to AB’s protection of citizens re: fracking near hydro dams http://bit.ly/2byNYK5 #bcpoli #SiteCEfforts by BC Hydro to ban potentially destructive natural gas company fracking operations in the vicinity of its biggest dams fall well short of what an Alberta hydro provider has achieved, raising questions about why British Columbia isn’t doing more to protect public safety.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives show that BC Hydro officials have feared for years that fracking-induced earthquakes could damage its dams and reservoirs.

Senior dam safety officials with the public hydro utility even worried for a time that natural gas companies could drill and frack for gas directly below their Peace River dams, which would kill hundreds if not thousands of people should they fail.

Big Dams and a Big Fracking Problem in B.C.’s Energy-rich Peace River Region

By Ben Parfitt for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Senior BC Hydro officials have quietly feared for years that earthquakes triggered by natural gas industry fracking operations could damage its Peace River dams, putting hundreds if not thousands of people at risk should the dams fail.

Yet the Crown corporation has said nothing publicly about its concerns, opting instead to negotiate behind the scenes with the provincial energy industry regulator, the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC).

To date, those discussions have resulted in only modest “understandings” between the hydro provider and the OGC that would see a halt in the issuance of any new “subsurface rights” allowing companies to drill and frack for natural gas within five kilometres of the Peace River’s two existing dams or an approved third dam on the river, the controversial $9-billion Site C project. Companies already holding such rights, however, would not be subject to the ban.

But once again, none of this is public knowledge. Only after the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives filed a Freedom of Information request with BC Hydro did the Crown corporation disclose its concerns, which focus on the possibility that Tweet: Fracking could trigger earthquakes more powerful than some @BCHydro dams are designed to withstand http://bit.ly/2bygBcq #SiteC #bcpolifracking could trigger earthquakes more powerful than some of its dams are designed to withstand.

Toxic Landslides Polluting Peace River Raise Alarms About Fracking, Site C

Toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, lithium and lead, are flowing unchecked into the Peace River following a series of unusual landslides that may be linked to B.C's natural gas industry fracking operations.

The landslides began nearly two years ago and show no sign of stopping. So far, they have killed all fish along several kilometres of Brenot and Lynx creeks just downstream from the community of Hudson’s Hope.

Tweet: Plumes of muddy water laced with contaminants pulse into #PeaceRiver http://bit.ly/1PhGs1n @maryforbc #bcpoli #cdnpoli #SiteCAs plumes of muddy water laced with contaminants pulse into the Peace River, scientists and local residents are struggling to understand what caused the landslides and why they have not ceased.

Hudson’s Hope mayor Gwen Johansson is also worried about a broader question raised by the ongoing pollution. The toxic metals are entering the Peace River in a zone slated to be flooded by the Site C dam. That zone could experience nearly 4,000 landslides should the dam be built and the impounded waters begin to rise in the landslide-prone area.

B.C. Government Quietly Undercuts Province's Ability to Feed Itself

If California’s farmers ever run out of the water needed to irrigate their crops, we’ll be in for a rude awakening.

With 70 per cent of British Columbia’s imported fruits and vegetables coming from the sunny U.S. state, any climatic disaster there would almost certainly result in dramatic run-ups in food prices here.

Our elected leaders know that such a scenario may be close at hand. But they’re not talking much about it — perhaps because to do so would be to admit that many of the government’s policy choices are at direct odds with the very idea of promoting domestic food security.

Ever Wondered Why Site C Rhymes With LNG?

On January 20, BC Hydro issued a press release singing the praises of a new hydro transmission line not far from where preliminary work has begun to build the $9-billion Site C dam.

The release, headlined “New transmission line to power development in the south Peace,” featured boosterish quotes from Premier Christy Clark, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett and BC Hydro CEO and president Jessica MacDonald, but made no mention of the dam.

Yet it highlighted for many one of the most vexing questions about why the dam, which is the single-most expensive megaproject in the province’s history, is being built at all: Why this project at this time?

“This line doubles the amount of power we can provide to the region,” enthused MacDonald. “We know it’s a growing region and BC Hydro needs to be one step ahead and ensure we can get power to where it is needed most. We want industry in B.C. to use clean power that comes from BC Hydro’s hydroelectric facilities.”

What MacDonald didn’t say, and Clark and Bennett did nothing to elaborate on either, is that the $300-million and counting transmission line is but the first of at least three in the region. Another two lines, which the provincial government wants exempt from review by the provincial electrical utilities regulator the BC Utilities Commission (the province also exempted the Site C dam project from similar review), will add hundreds of millions of dollars more to the tally for taxpayers.