An Indigenous health and environment advocate from northeastern British Columbia is accusing the province’s new NDP government of “criminal hypocrisy” and “eco-imperialism”, after provincial officials assured fossil lobbyists that a scientific inquiry on fracking industry impacts would sidestep public health risks associated with the process.
“They’ve shown themselves ready to sacrifice us and the unborn who will come after us in this territory,” said Caleb Behn, an Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne Za/Cree man from Treaty 8 in northeastern British Columbia, in the heart of B.C.’s fracking operations.
“To give this problematic industry and this problematic technology a pass on health because you’re pro-LNG puts Indigenous and rural populations at risk,” Behn told DeSmog Canada. “The vast majority of original research on fracking—84% of which has been conducted in the last four or five years—indicates health risks are present or strongly indicated.”
He said the first original research on possible human health impacts of fracking in northeastern B.C. found a marker for exposure to carcinogenic benzene that was 3½ times above the national average in rural women—and six times above the average in Indigenous women.
“The findings are intense,” he said. “I’m surprised it hasn’t raised some red flags.” But “to avoid addressing these health impacts in a fracking review is hypocrisy of the deepest and most dangerous kind. And it is evident it’s of a very strategic benefit to the LNG industry.”
Behn notes that health impacts like cancer, asthma, gestational problems, and increases in premature birth are hard to attribute to a specific cause, due to their long latency periods. But “there’s a 2017 study which analyzed birth certificates for infants born in Pennsylvania that found indicators of poor infant health, in this case lower birth weight for babies, born to mothers living near fracking sites,” he said. (An earlier study addressed asthma risk.)
“You combine that finding with our pilot study in northeast of B.C. looking at the markers for benzene exposure in air of pregnant women, and you understand why it’s important to use a precautionary approach to these developments.”
Behn also cited the social impacts of rapid, boom-style fossil development, contending that fracking had turned the area into a sacrifice zone.
“Fort St. James data from local RCMP shows a 38% increase in sexual assaults in the first year of the construction phase of industrial projects, as well as an increase in sex work in areas where there’s increase in industrial traffic,” he told DeSmog. “What I can tell you is that in my experience, it’s a violent, aggressive, and competitive world when these industries come in, subject to boom and bust cycles.