Fracking industry’s “insatiable thirst” for water in BC’s northeast violates First Nations rights: study

June 28, 2017

VANCOUVER – Coming on the heels of an investigation that revealed fossil fuel companies have built dozens of unauthorized dams in BC’s northeast, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released a study drawing attention to larger problems with water management practices in that region.

The study finds that a sharp increase in water-intensive, natural gas industry fracking operations is underway, yet First Nations who are the most directly impacted by such activities have little say in shaping how, when and where fossil fuel companies operate on their traditional lands. 

“Natural gas drilling and fracking operations have devastated local First Nations, steadily eroding their ability to hunt, fish, trap and carry out other traditional practices, which are supposed to be protected by Treaty 8,” says Ben Parfitt, the reports’ author and a resource policy analyst with the CCPA’s BC Office. 

At best, First Nations receive advanced notice of fossil fuel industry developments slated to take place in their territories. But they have little ability to influence the timing, rate or location of company operations. And they have very few avenues to engage with the provincial government or energy companies on the broader issue of cumulative impacts, and what constitutes a reasonable amount of industrial activity within given watersheds or sub-regions.

The study notes that First Nations have seen some recent victories before provincial tribunals and the courts. For example, the Fort Nelson First Nation, a Treaty 8 signatory, successfully overturned some fracking-related industry authorizations, including the cancelation of a water licence, in its territory. In another instance, the Blueberry River First Nation is suing the provincial government in a potentially precedent-setting case for the cumulative damages done to its territory by multiple industrial developments.

“If British Columbia is going to respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, we need to turn things around,” Parfitt says. “To start, we need to end the current ‘death-by-a-thousand-cuts’ approach, where First Nations are simply asked to respond to one proposed industrial development after another, and instead place First Nations firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to guiding activities in local watersheds well before those activities occur.”

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Enact new co-management regimes, similar to those on Haida Gwaii, where members of the Haida Nation and provincial government designates work together, rather than First Nations simply responding to government and industry referrals;
  • Set maximum allowable extraction limits of natural gas on a watershed-by-watershed basis, a recommendation that has parallels in the partial restrictions imposed on forest companies operating on First Nation lands on BC’s central and northern coasts;
  • Create development free zones, including protected areas where healthy, functioning ecosystems are maintained so that aboriginal rights can be fully exercised, a recommendation advanced by the Fort Nelson First Nation;
  • Charge more for industrial use of water and investing the new funds collected in water studies and enhanced water protection; and
  • Require fossil fuel companies to detail exactly where they intend to operate over long time frames, a kind of “heads up” that forest companies used to be required to give First Nations and the general public.

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The full report, Fracking, First Nations and Water: Respecting Indigenous rights and better protecting our shared resources, including recommendations can be found at: policyalternatives.ca/protect-shared-waters

For more information or to set up interviews with Ben Parfitt, please contact Lindsey Bertrand at lindsey@policyalternatives.ca or 604-801-5121 x238.

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