Tighter Rules Needed for Underground Injection of Fracking Wastewater

June 16, 2014

Victoria, BC – First Nations in Northeast BC have many concerns about plans to dramatically expand fracking operations in their territories to feed the LNG industry. Thousands of new fracking wells will seriously impact wildlife, air quality and the Nations’ traditional way of life. Now a new University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre study done for the Fort Nelson First Nation highlights the risks raised by current fracking wastewater disposal practices.

Wastewater from fracking operations can contain radioactive materials, toxic metals like lead and arsenic, carcinogens like benzene and hexavalent chromium, chemicals used in fracking and high concentrations of salts. Yet this wastewater is being injected into old gas wells without proper monitoring or regulation.

The age and integrity of these disposal wells is a major concern. A new study indicates that 73% of injected waste water in the Fort Nelson First Nation territory has gone into wells over forty years old. Province-wide, 60% of the wastewater has gone into such old wells. For example, near the Fort Nelson First Nation reserve a single well built in 1968 has been injected with a volume of waste water equal to 24 9/11 World Trade Center Towers.

Yet because of weak laws, we don’t really know what toxins were in the waste water, or how much may have leaked into ground water or surface water. Monitoring of the toxins in the wastewater is not currently required — and the law fails to require monitoring of subsurface conditions near such wells.

Reviewing “best practice” standards from other countries and expert authorities, the ELC study recommends that BC laws on fracking wastewater disposal wells be reformed to require:

  • Fracking wastewater disposal wells meet US EPA standards for hazardous waste wells;
  • Reduce, re-use and recycle wastewater more efficiently;
  • Rigorous hydrogeologic study and risk assessment before siting a disposal well;
  • Monitor disposal wells throughout their lifetime and long after their closure to ensure that they are not leaking;
  • Baseline studies of ground and surface water before disposal well operation begins; and
  • Adequate emergency response plans.

The report suggests that an appropriate way for BC to ensure robust monitoring and compliance efforts for disposal wells would be to give First Nations adequate resources to conduct baseline testing; provide monitoring and compliance services; and develop adequate emergency response plans.

Read the ELC study, prepared by Savannah Carr-Wilson and supervised by Legal Director Calvin Sandborn.