Earthquakes caused by fracking spurs request for public inquiry

Earthquakes in the thousands near Site C dam have prompted the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) to call for a public inquiry into the matter.

A recent report stated more than 6,500 earthquakes associated with natural gas industry fracking operations in the Peace River region in 2017 and 2018 occurred mostly in a zone just south of the Site C dam.

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"It is absolutely essential that the BC government address the serious problems at Site C and determine once and for all whether it is prudent public policy to allow natural gas industry fracking operations to occur anywhere in the Peace River region, given the thousands of earthquakes linked to fracking," Ben Parfitt, CCPA resource policy analyst, said.

"The best way for the government to make an informed decision is to appoint a panel under the Public Inquiry Act and for any proposed engineering changes to be delayed until that panel reports."

The CCPA released a report and maps that show where the earthquakes occurred including a 4.5 magnitude event which occurred in November 2018 that shook the ground so hard workers at the Site C project were immediately ordered to evacuate.

The area south of the Site C dam is called the Kiskatinaw Seismic Monitoring and Mitigation Area and has numerous underlying faults that an independent team of geoscientists warned the provincial Oil and Gas Commission a year ago can become "critically stressed" during fracking operations, leading to earthquakes. Some of those same faults trend toward the Site C project.

Documents acquired through a Freedom of Information request to Hydro in January revealed CCPA created reports showcasing how dam safety officials and engineers at the Crown corporation expressed concerns about earthquakes near the two dams on the Peace River - Peace Canyon and the W.A.C. Bennett and Site C.

BC Hydro learned about geotechnical problems at Site C at the same time when the dam had only been partially built. Construction costs started at $6.6 billion and grew to $12 billion and may continue to increase as serious problems with key construction components come to light like the buttresses that are made with thousands of tons of roller-compacted concrete.

The BC Utilities Commission was later told by BC Hydro that major "enhancements" to the project will be needed including "design changes for the roller-compacted concrete core buttress to enhance the foundation with anchors, additional grouting for the earthfill dam and a shear key for the right bank of the earthfill dam. Additional foundation enhancements include improvements to the spillways and powerhouse roller-compacted concrete buttresses. Several options are being evaluated against Project criteria, including improvements to the drainage within the rock and changes in the design of the approach channel."

The public needs to know why such significant changes are needed now, five years into construction of the project, Parfitt said.

"Why does BC Hydro now believe that key components of the dam that are already in place are somehow in jeopardy?" he added. "Are there physical signs of stress, such as cracks, in these massive works? If so, when did they occur and what does BC Hydro believe are the underlying causes of the stresses? Can those problems realistically, safely and cost-effectively be fixed? Or is it time to scrap the project? Could earthquake after earthquake nearby the site make things worse than they already are or scuttle any potential fixes? These are all questions that the public deserves answers to in light of the escalating costs and potential risks at the Site C project."

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