BC Hydro is dismissing concerns raised by a dam safety specialist who repeatedly warned about the risk of fracking-induced earthquakes in a region that is home to some of the province’s biggest hydroelectric dams, according to internal documents obtained by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“Some of BC Hydro’s biggest dams are found in the Peace Region,” CBC reports, citing the CCPA release. “It’s an area dotted with natural gas operations—many of which now rely on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract the gas. The utility operates its huge W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Peace Canyon Dam on the Peace River, and is building its Site C Dam on the same river.”
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The internal documents, which CCPA shared with CBC News, “show BC Hydro dam safety specialist Scott Gilliss repeatedly raising the issue of earthquakes caused by fracking, the increase of nearby fracking activity, and dam safety with superiors,” the national broadcaster notes.
“The documents show that Gilliss is told his ‘broken record’ warnings have been heard and brought to the ‘highest level’—provincial ministers,” writes reporter Rafferty Baker. “But according to the documents and Parfitt’s report, that’s as far as it went. Gilliss was told it was a ‘dead issue’.”
Parfitt has been reporting on the risk and sharing his findings with CBC since 2016, and when the “warnings were first aired, Chris O’Riley, then deputy CEO of BC Hydro, said concerns about risks from fracking were overblown,” CBC writes. “Now, despite the new documents, the utility’s position is unchanged.”
“We don’t believe there’s any concern for the safety of our dams,” said Dam Safety Director Bob Schubak. “We would acknowledge that a very close earthquake would cause some damage to our equipment.” But he added the impact would be limited to shutting down operations, with no concerns for the structural integrity of any dam.
But “Parfitt said BC Hydro ought to immediately undertake seismic upgrades to ensure disaster doesn’t strike at Peace Canyon Dam,” CBC writes.
“We have learned that there are much greater risks to BC Hydro’s dams, and in particular its Peace Canyon Dam, should earthquakes occur near the dams,” Parfitt told CBC. “The Peace Canyon Dam has known foundational problems, that there is an increased risk to damage to that dam by nearby earthquakes.”
Schubak said the utility “is already considering work to bring the dam, which was completed in 1980, up to modern seismic standards,” CBC writes. “He said upgrade projects are expected in the late 2020s.”
A 4.5 magnitude quake in November 2018, believed to be linked to fracking operations, led to a brief work stoppage and inspection after it was felt at the Site C construction site, the national broadcaster adds.
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