The Sierra Club of British Columbia Foundation and the Western Wilderness Committee have sued the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) and EnCana Corporation (EnCana) to stop the OGC issuing short-term fresh water withdrawal approvals under British Columbia’s Water Act to oil and gas companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing operations.
The OGC is responsible for the regulation of oil and gas activities in British Columbia and has authority to issue approvals for the withdrawal of surface water for up to two years.
The OGC regularly grants these approvals to oil and gas companies to enable them to undertake hydraulic fracturing of wells in British Columbia’s prolific Montney, Horn River and Liard shale gas basins. The source of the water is from local lakes, rivers and streams. If a diversion of water for more than two years is required, then the operator requires a water withdrawal license under the Water Act.
An application for a license requires more information than an application for an approval. An application for a license must also be publically advertized and various persons may object to the license being granted.
A public hearing may be held to consider the objections.The environmental groups examined 1,352 short-term water withdrawal approvals They allege in the lawsuit that even though none of the individual water withdrawal approvals exceeded the two year limit imposed by the legislation, multiple approvals are regularly being issued over multiple years to the same company, for the same purpose and for withdrawals at the same location.
They claim that this has had the effect of subverting the requirement that a water license be obtained, and therefore the OGC’s practice violates the Water Act. The environmental groups are seeking a court order quashing 83 short-term approvals granted to EnCana and a declaration that the OGC’s practice of granting approvals for more than one term is contrary to the Water Act and is unlawful.