Tag Archives: drinking water

Shawnigan Lake: 3.5 years of protesting soil dump

Our neighbours down the road in Shawnigan Lake have been trying to stop a contaminated soil dump in their watershed for the last three and half years. The residents are concerned about toxins leaking into their drinking water from the site.

Here are the highlights from their video: “We Thought It Would Be Enough”

  • 300 people attended a public meeting; all opposed the contaminated soil dump except two
  • CVRD, CRD, VIHA and Cowichan Tribes all sent letters to the BC government outlining their opposition to the contaminated soil dump
  • 9 expert witnesses gave statements to the Evironmental Appeal Board  backing up Shawnigan Lake residents’ concerns
  • 15,000 signatures on a petition were delivered to the BC Legislature
  • 1,600 people attended a demonstration on the lawns of the BC Legislature
  • detailed documents revealing secret agreements were submitted
  • water samples showed toxins in the water
  • Malahat First Nation asked the BC government for a stay of the Ministry of Environment’s permit for the contaminated soil dump until more testing was completed

So far, these collective actions have not gained the ear of the BC government which is allowing the contaminated soil dump to continue its operations. The worst part is yet to come; the company may sue the residents’ for lost revenue.

Watch this Shawnigan Lake  video:

LNG in BC: petro-state politics Part 2 – fracking

This is part 2 of a 3-part series based on a presentation by investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk to Squamish residents last year on LNG in BC.

What is shale gas?

Shale rocks are generally dense and black-coloured, formed from mud deposited at the bottom of past oceans, now solidified into rock. This mud is rich in un-decayed organic matter. When heated, the organic matter is transformed into oil and gas. Typically, this oil and gas is trapped between layers of shale and cannot be recovered through conventional drilling methods.

Fracking: what is it?

A well is sunk, which travels vertically through the overlying strata. When it reaches the shale layer, it becomes necessary to drill horizontally.

Horizontal frack well diagram
Horizontal frack well diagram

Modern wells are capable of drilling over 10km horizontally: such wells are called ‘extended reach laterals’. Once the horizontal well is drilled, it must be hydraulically stimulated, or as it has become known, “fracked”. The fractures themselves can extend well beyond the target because of the unpredictable nature of the shale formations. The horizontal well is “fracked” in portions, stage by stage every few hundred meters or so, meaning that a 2km lateral well might need 10 to 20 stages. For each stage, the targeted section of the well is sealed off  and a chemical mixture is pumped down at high pressure.

The pressure of the water is sufficient to open up pre-existing fractures in the rock, and to create new ones. These fractures are important, because they provide a pathway for the gas to flow out of the shale rock and into the well. Once that is done, sand and gravel (proppant) are pushed into the fractures that have been created, literally ‘propping’ them open, ensuring that the gas can continue to flow.

The total fracking activity in the United States now uses about same energy as 11 nuclear power plants.  Not to mention the water, sand and chemicals required.

Hydraulic fracturing was first done in the 1950s, but wells were sunk straight down; horizontal wells were not in use until recently.

Fracking BC

In order to get the volume of Natural Gas needed to fill all these proposed LNG terminals,  vast areas will need to be fracked.  Essentially ¼ of the province will be fracked.

According to coal experts if five big LNG plants go ahead in BC then in order to keep those LNG terminals full it is going to require approximately 50,000 wells over the next 27 years.  Or about 3,000 wells started each year.

Nine trillion cubic feet (tcf) per year of natural gas production and exports is planned by 2020. That is equivalent to 2 million barrels of oil per day, roughly the current level of production in Alberta’s oilsands.  The current existing Canadian production is 5.3 tcf a year.

Pioneer of Fracking

United States is the pioneer of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and they are only recovering 10 to 20% of the resource. The problems they have encountered are:

  • pore spaces are 1000× smaller*
  • can’t control the direction, width and size of fracks
  • radioactive material
  • hydrogen sulfide
  • saline water
  • high CO2 content

*Compared to sandstones and limestones, shales tend to have lower porosity, making it harder for the oil and gas to move about through the shale. This means that it is harder to extract gas from shale than from conventional reservoirs where the fluids can flow more freely.

What do you do with all that CO2? In BC we are now venting it out into the atmosphere.  Australia is trying to bury it in the ground at great expense.

Shale gas wells have a rapid depletion rate of 80% whereas regular oil wells deplete at the rate of 20% to 30%.

Fracking operations are very complex. One problem in Northern BC is that companies are continually fracking into other companies’ fields. This is because of the horizontal wells.

A fracking project in Northeastern BC in the Horn River area had 16 wells sunk which required:

  • 417 million gallons of water
  • 78,400 tons of sand
  • 8 million gallons of fracking chemicals
  • 500 frack intervals
  • 10,000 foot laterals
  • 40,000 horsepower for fracking pumps

The fracking in northern BC uses 3× more water than other fracking sites.  Every year fracking in BC requires the same volume of water used by the City of Calgary.

Ground Water:

According to experts we don’t know where our aquifers are, how shallow they are, how big they are or how deep they are. We don’t know the water table elevation, we don’t know in which direction the ground water moves, we have no information.

The government of BC doesn’t even have a ground water monitoring program set up in the north where they are fracking now.

Last year the Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman tried to assure BC residents,

“the reality is we’ve been doing this for over 50 years, we’ve never had contamination from a drill, we’ve never had a drill stem leak or fail. We do it as well or better than anybody else in the world.”

Considering that there were no horizontal frack wells fifty years ago, isn’t that a misleading statement? There are only 6 monitoring wells for over 25,000 wells in the north. Who is tracking the contamination?

The more industry fracks shale formations the greater the risk to aquifers and ground water from methane leaks and contamination.

Methane gas gets into ground water. A study conducted by Duke University found that in  60 drinking water wells in Pennsylvania,  51 wells had 17 times higher methane and ethane content. This was because of leaky well casings, fracks had generated new fractures and or enlarged existing fracks which allowed the methane and ethane to escape into the water. They documented over 200 cases of ground water contamination.

Methane and CO2 venting:

On average 60% of aging wells leak methane gas.  Industry calls this “gas migration”. It is a big problem, expensive to fix and difficult to completely stop.

Currently, there are 27,000 wells and 10% of them are leaking methane, and are super emitters. The fumes and emissions from these wells are incredible.

The problem is the fractures are uncontrollable. Fractures can spread out in all directions and this causes a waste of energy, a waste of fluids and chemicals, and wells end up fracturing into each other. Ultimately, water tables get contaminated and chemicals can pool on the ground.

So far, the BC government has yet to do a study on the impacts of fracking and LNG on the environment.  This includes water, land, and air issues.  Squamish residents have a right to be concerned.

Part 3 coming soon.

LNG in BC: petro-state politics – 3 part series

What is happening with the LNG in BC?

British Columbia is counting on three LNG projects operating by 2020 in Prince Rupert, Squamish, and Port Alberni.

On Thursday, February 19th, Prime Minster Harper arrived in Surrey to announced 10 years of tax relief for the BC LNG industry, including a joint venture led by Malaysia’s state-owned PETRONAS.

When the BC government  unveiled its provincial LNG tax structure last October,  Petronas president Shamsul Azhar Abbas requested more incentives to do business in BC.

Meanwhile, in Squamish and West Vancouver open houses were recently held by the LNG industry to answer questions regarding the proposed new LNG Plant in Squamish.

This is a 3-part series based on a presentation by investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk to Squamish residents last year on LNG in BC. In his presentation, Nikiforuk covered the following points:

  • LNG overview
  • Who are the Players?
  • Fracking—what is it?
  • Economics— the money
  • Australia’s experience—10 years with LNG
  • Fracking of coal seams, what does this mean?

So far there are 15 proposals for LNG projects in BC.  This would change the direction of BC for the future.

LNG explained:

LNG has been around for about 50 years. The first LNG tanker was made in 1957. The technology back then to liquefy Natural Gas was too expensive so it didn’t really take off.

Basically you are taking gas and cooling it down so that it could fit in a quart of milk, for example. You have to use energy to cool it down.

Natural Gas is expensive. It costs between 7 and 10 times more to transport LNG than oil or coal. This is why most Natural Gas is consumed in its region of origin because it is too expensive to transport.

The challenges with Natural Gas are: liquefying, transporting and re-gasifying.

The LNG game:

It wasn’t until Qatar started putting Natural Gas on the market in 2002 that the market got heated up plus many other countries got in on the game.  There has been an explosive growth of Natural Gas extraction. Here are some of the major players in LNG in the world today:

  •  Australia
  •  Qatar
  •  Malaysia
  •  USA
  • Nigeria
  • Indonesia
  • Trinidad/Tobago
  • Algeria
  • Russia

BC is new to the LNG game. This is a very expensive game to get into.  One of the things that has changed is the price differentials around the world. Natural Gas prices are low in the United States due to the shale boom.  Prices in Asia are much higher.

So the idea is “why don’t we sell our cheap BC Natural Gas over in Asia and we can beat them at their prices?”

How are you going to pay for building these projects?

LNG projects are complex and costly. We know that hydro carbons are getting more expensive to capture. The fact that we have to go off shore and look for oil is another indicator that we are running into the age of extreme hydrocarbons. Extreme hydrocarbons means:

  • high capital
  • high energy output
  • high environmental costs
  • high complexity
  • high risk

One of the challenges is that building LNG infrastructure is getting more and more expensive. We have captured all the cheap stuff at the top. Now we are at the bottom. Industry is doubling what it is spending just to get the hydrocarbons out of the ground.

Out of the last 12 LNG projects, 10 went over budget, many by as much as 40% to 50%.

Now we are trying to crack open rock that is as tight as granite (that is what shale formations are like) in northern BC in the Montney Formation. So we have to use brute force to open the rocks.  This process involves using a fleet of engines to blast water, sand and chemicals at extremely high pressures 1 to 2 miles underground in order to break open the rock.

From 2000 to 2013 industry spending has grown from $400 billion to $900 billion to extract  hydrocarbons. Costs are growing more to extract but production is flat. Cost overruns are telling us something about the resource. Since 2000, liquefaction unit costs have tripled or even quadrupled in this time period.

Not all projects work out. Four out of every five oil and gas mega-projects fail.  So projects are sped up resulting in cutting corners which is a recipe for failure.

Who owns the LNG resource?

Minister of Natural Gas Rich Coleman, says it’s you the taxpayer:

“We are your partners in this. You need to know we’re going to make this a win for you. We know in our government… That profit is a very good word and profit means that everybody wins. And you need to win large enough for your large investments…we will beat Australia, we will beat them hands down.” Min. Natural Gas 2013.

Fracking Vancouver Island

Coal is found only in sedimentary rocks. The coalfields on Vancouver Island are:

  • Cowichan coalfield
  • Nanaimo coalfield
  • Alberni coalfield
  • Comox coalfield – active coal operation
  • Suquash coalfield
  • Quatsino Sound coalfield

Water quality concerns:
Imagine fracking Vancouver Island. What will that do to water quality on the Island?
“because of the shallow depth of many CBM (coalbed methane basins), the potential exists for a fracture growing out of zone and affecting freshwater aquifers. Schlumberger 2009

LNG terminal in Campbell River

Another proposal to turn an old pulp mill site to an LNG terminal is in Campbell River. Quicksilver Resources Inc. is a Texas based oil and gas company. Quicksilver’s main expertise is fracking coal. There are coal seams on Vancouver Island. They have been involved in fracking coal fields in Alberta over that last 10 years.

Why would you put an LNG terminal in Campbell River? Where is the Natural Gas going to come from? It will cost $4B to $5B to build an LNG plant.  Most likely, Quicksilver will go after Natural Gas reserves on Vancouver Island.

As an example, more than 20,000 wells have been drilled over the past 5 to 6 years in Quicksilver’s Alberta operation.

Who are the players?

1. Sukanto Tanoto is a billionaire tycoon with interests in palm oil, pulp, timber, oil and gas and is behind Woodfibre LNG in Squamish.

Tanoto owns the world’s largest pulp company, Royal Golden Eagle company. One of Tanoto’s companies is called APRIL, Asia-Pacific Resources International Ltd.  Nearly half of the deforestation in the Sumatran tiger habitat between 2009 and 2011 was in pulp concessions. APRIL group was responsible for a sixth of all forested tiger habitat loss over this period.

Giant palm oil branch of the Royal Golden Eagle International conglomerate of forestry, rubber and palm plantation companies, owned by the billionaire tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, was using a web of shell companies based in Road Town and other tax havens to enable its palm oil companies to evade tax. – Guardian May 10, 2014

In January 2013 it was reported that Indonesia’s Supreme Court ordered Tanoto’s company Asia Agri to pay more than US$390 million to the state for tax evasion. According to evidence contained in the 8,000 court papers, Asia Agri which employs 25,000 people across 14 subsidiaries and owns 165,000 hectares of plantations, was engaged in routine and systematic fraudulent accounting practices. They were setting up shell companies in the British Virgin Islands.

Pacific Oil and Gas is another division of Tanoto’s company. It is one of only two foreign owned companies allowed to invest in Chinese LNG infrastructure. For some strange reason this guy has a sweetheart deal with China and has the one LNG terminal in China. Very strange for a protectionist country.

2. Petronas: Petroliam National Berhad is a Malaysia state-owned company that’s been around for over 40 years with operations around the world. Petronas provides 40% of their government’s revenue.

Petronas reports directly to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, bypassing parliament. Therefore it has very low levels of transparency and accountability. They have major investments in BC and Alberta in the energy sector. They purchased various Canadian owned energy companies.

In 2013, two senior managers at PETRONAS were charged with graft and money laundering for $RM1 million.  As a result, EITI approached Petronas to adopt transparency standards. Petronas doesn’t want to sign onto transparency suggested through EITI standards.

Petronas, was “ready to call off” its project in BC amid delays in the approval process and the recent imposition of an LNG tax by the BC government and a “lack of appropriate incentives” Financial Times of London re Prince Rupert project.

Now with Stephen Harper’s recent announcement, it looks like PETRONAS has got their way.

3. SINOPEC is a Chinese state-owned mega-player in the LNG industry.

Part 2 coming soon…

Salish Sea: Oil, Coal and LNG tanker traffic to increase

This is a critical time in BC history for the Salish Sea. Why? Because the proposed  increase in coal, oil, and LNG exports to Asia will drive up tanker traffic resulting in major changes to our environment.

The map below shows how the Salish Sea will become a Resource Export Super Highway:
Oil –  tarsands oil from Alberta to Burnaby (pipeline)
Coal – coal from Montana and Wyoming to Surrey & Texada Island (rail/shipping)
LNG – liquified Natural Gas from northern BC to Squamish & Campbell River (pipeline/shipping)

SalishSea - super highway
SalishSea – super highway

Oil export expansion:
The plan is to bring tarsands oil by Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby. The volume of oil would increase from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. This increase would require at least 400 additional tankers to handle the volume.

Each tanker traveling through the Salish Sea guarantees a ‘carbon spill’ of 375,000 tonnes of climate-changing emissions when the oil is burned and released into the atmosphere.

Coal export expansion:
Plans are underway to dramatically increase coal shipments from ports in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The coal is strip-mined from the United States’ Powder River Basin area, located in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. The coal would be shipped out to Asia and burned for power generation.

The following are ports that are to be expanded or built to handle increase in coal exports to Asia:

  • Fraser Surrey Docks, Metro Vancouver
  • Neptune facilities, North Vancouver
  • Westshore Terminal, Delta
  • Lafarge coal storage, Texada Island
  • Gateway Pacific Terminal, Cherry Point Washington
  • Millenium Bulk Logistics Terminal, Longview, Washington
  • Gray’s Harbor, Washington
  • St. Helens, Oregon
  • Coos Bay, Oregon

Metro Vancouver would become the biggest coal exporter in North America. The Salish Sea would be a super busy highway of  coal, oil, and LNG tankers plus other general cargo tanker traffic.

LNG – Liquified Natural Gas export expansion:
Two new LNG export terminals proposed are:

When the Woodfibre LNG facility is up and running there will be an estimated 40 tankers travelling through Howe Sound annually.  Who knows how many tankers would be going to and from Campbell River.

In May, 2014, the Tsleil Waututh First Nation launched a legal challenge of the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project.

Each tanker brings the risk of an oil spill that would effectively kill the marine environment, the coastal fisheries and BC tourism for the next generations. People are learning from Alaska that once the oil is in the beaches it’s not coming out. Over 6,000 people died as a result of the Exxon Valdez spill. Who is going to track the economic fallout here in BC when it happens?  We are in an earthquake zone. A disaster is just a matter of time.

Email Christy Clark our BC premier and tell her what you think, premier@gov.bc.ca.

How a student turned her high school into a bottled water free zone

On Monday evening, Nanaimo City Council narrowly passed the Blue Community designation. The key motion was to “phase out” the sale of bottled water in municipal buildings. Councillors Anderson, McKay, Greves and Mayor Ruttan voted against.

Here is what the next generation is doing:

McNally High School in Edmonton is now a bottled water free campus, thanks to the efforts of one student, Claire Edwards.

Why did she do it?

A year ago, Claire attended a youth conference on issues of water sustainability. She learned:

  • it takes an average of 3 litres of water to create 1 litre of bottled water
  • 17 million barrels of oil is used annually to create these plastic bottles (enough for a million vehicles)
  • 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted in the production of these plastic bottles

How did she do it?

Enlisting the help of another student, Claire approached the school’s administration with the idea of installing a drinking water fountain and providing reusable water bottles for the 1,100 students who attend the high school. The cost of both was estimated at $6,400.  The next step was to convince the students of the long-term benefits of the initiative.

“Most of this water comes from municipal sources so companies get water out of taps and then sell it back to the consumer for 3,000 times what they got it for, while hurting the environment.”

The bottled water industry under its various umbrella organizations including the International Bottled Water Foundation and International Council of Bottled Waters Associations, are continuing an agressive global campaign. Global sales have gone from 175 million litres in 2005 to 237 million litres in 2010.

Some substances may prove more difficult to manage in bottled than tap water. This is generally because bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than water distributed in piped distribution systems. Control of materials used in containers and closures for bottled waters is, therefore, of special concern. In addition, some micro-organisms, which are normally of little or no public health significance, may grow to higher levels in bottled waters.


Grip Magazine, Spring 2012; 2011 Global Bottled Water Congress, Zenith International; https://apps.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact256.html

Bottled Water in Nanaimo

Update: On May 14, 2012, Nanaimo City Council reversed its March decision to make Nanaimo a Blue Community and will keep allowing bottled water to be sold at park facilities and at city events.  

“We should not forget that billions of people still lack a safe supply of water and access to safe sanitation. Canada and the United Kingdom are proposing the removal of an explicit reference to the right to water and sanitation for all from the first draft of the ‘Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development’ outcome document,” warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Bottling water has now become a multi-billion dollar business for some companies including Nestlé. Recently, the City of Nanaimo received a letter from Nestlé regarding the City’s decision to stop having bottled water for sale in their vending machines. Check out Bottled Life for an indepth look at Nestlé’s tactics.

This is Drinking Water Week (May 13-19) in BC and a good time to appreciate our access to free, clean drinking water. Check out this infographic on the cost of urban water around the world.  As the temperatures start to rise, this is a good time to remind ourselves on a few ways to conserve this valuable resource.

  • Running your sprinkler for just one hour can use 1,514 litres of water
  • At 15 litres per minute, pressure washing for four hours can use 3,600 litres
  • toilets account for 45% of all indoor water use in a typical residence and 20% of toilets leak
  • a running toilet can leak 4 litres of water per minute which adds up to 5,760 litres per day.
  • storm drains are not a part of the wastewater system – don’t wash your car near them

Here are some helpful links:

H2 House – how to detect water leaks around your home
Environment Canada water use calculator
Drinking Water Week – take part in the BC Community Water Challenge