There are two main concerns about fracking and water: the volume of water used for fracking operations and water contamination. Chemicals used for fracking can contaminate surface and groundwater with regulated toxins and chemicals known to cause cancer. Studies in the United States have shown that these chemicals can end up in drinking water and cause serious health effects. 

Health effects can include cancer; liver, kidney, brain, respiratory and skin disorders; and birth defects. Fracking fluids also return to surface level, generating “produced water” that has to be disposed of. In BC, this water is commonly injected into old well sites or stored in tailings ponds, which can also lead to water contamination.

Methane has been found in higher concentrations in water near frack sites in the United States. Drilling can create underground passageways allowing methane to seep into underground water supplies. Where fracking is prevalent in the United States, there are cases of tap water being lit on fire and drinking wells exploding. However, fracking wells in BC are deeper than those in the United States and rock formations are said to act as an impermeable layer. For those reasons, it is unclear if injected fluid is a concern here in BC. There have been no documented cases of groundwater contamination from fracking to date.  

On average, well pads are approximately 140 square meters and require extensive energy and infrastructure. Tens of thousands of diesel fuel are required, thousands of trucks haul in water to use for each frack job, as well as other fracking materials. Each frack-site requires seismic lines, roads, pipelines, storage tanks, compressor trucks, and large semi-trucks. Fracking in Northeastern BC requires millions of gallons of freshwater usage--between 5 - 8 Olympic-size pools of fresh water is used on each fracking well.

Fracking has been banned in countries such as France and Germany due to concerns about environmental and social impacts. Both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have placed a moratorium on fracking until further research is conducted into the consequences of this technology. This raises questions about whether BC should expand fracking activities without further study. Over 6,000 new gas wells could be needed in the Northeast to feed the demand of new LNG export facilities.

Related Resources

Shale Gas in British Columbia: Risks to BC’s Water Resources

Matt Horne & Karen Campbell | The Pembina Institute | 2011

This report explores the known and potential impacts to water resources from unconventional (shale) gas extraction in British Columbia. It shows that, in many cases, BC's current approach to resource management and environmental protection are not adequate to deal with the anticipated increase in unconventional gas development. The authors provide ways in which BC can improve its planning and regulatory framework for unconventional gas development to provide better protection of water resources.

Fracking Up Our Water, Hydro Power and Climate

Ben Parfitt | Wilderness Committee and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives | 2011

This report states that unconventional gas extraction in northeastern BC has the potential to create significant pollution, but because of a lack of information and failure to consult with British Columbians, development continues without proper and informed discussions. Unconventional gas extraction and exports may not be as ‘clean’ as the BC government claims it to be.