A must read from Ben Parfitt on the risk fracking quakes post on Peace River dams…particularly the one with foundation issues
There doesn’t seem to be much peace for the Peace these days….
Residents are still left with safety concerns following the big slide that hit just a short distance down from Site C in 2018…. https://thenarwhal.ca/its-not-right-residents-left-with-safety-concerns-following-2018-landslide-near-site-c-dam/
The gas industry expansion is well underway as the current government tries to greenwash it just like the old one did… https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/ben-parfitt-site-c-dam-to-electrify-lng-industry-is-far-from-clean
And thanks to a freedom of information request Ben Parfitt pursued for some time, we now know that one of the Peace River dams has a compromised foundation – a sizable fracking caused earthquake in that area could result in a series of events leading to failure. Not only that, BC Hydro and the government have been aware of this danger, and the impact fracking quakes could have on all dams,and did not reveal it in the hearings for Site C.
These alarming findings and more, are detailed in a two part series called Fracked Up.
You can read part 1 of the report here: https://www.policynote.ca/frack-up/
You can read part 2 of the report here: https://www.policynote.ca/the-well-from-hell/
You can see the timeline of events, here: https://www.policynote.ca/timeline-fracking/
BC Hydro has known for well over a decade that its Peace Canyon dam is built on weak, unstable rock and that an earthquake triggered by a nearby natural gas industry fracking or disposal well operation could cause the dam to fail.
Yet for years, knowledge of the dam’s compromised foundation was not shared widely within the Crown corporation. It was even kept secret from members of a joint federal/provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, now under construction 70 kilometres downstream of Peace Canyon in the Montney Basin—one of the most active natural gas fracking zones in British Columbia.
The disturbing revelation is among many contained in hundreds of emails, letters, memos and meeting notes released by the publicly-owned hydro utility in response to a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC office.
The documents show that BC Hydro officials knew from the moment the Peace Canyon dam was built in the 1970s that it had “foundational problems,” and that if an earthquake damaged the structure’s vital drainage systems it could be a race to stabilize the dam before it failed.
The documents also show that BC Hydro’s concerns about threats to the dam were discussed “at the highest level” within the provincial government ten years ago, but that unidentified provincial Cabinet ministers at that time rejected taking any action.
Does this really surprise anyone, knowing what we know about how the last government operated? No. Let’s continue.
It is unclear who the ministers were. But BC’s energy minister at the time was Blair Lekstrom, and Lekstrom had responsibility for both BC Hydro and the Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the province. Barry Penner, meanwhile, was environment minister and had responsibility for dam safety.
Unfortunately, Rigbey told Gilliss, the ministerial meeting did not go BC Hydro’s way. The report-back was that unless BC Hydro could definitively show “a smoking gun” that linked a specific fracking operation to a specific earthquake detected at a specific dam location, a ban on fracking operations nearby BC Hydro’s Peace River dams was “a dead issue.”
Rigbey told Gilliss that all that could be done for the time being was to keep Davidson’s office informed and, through Davidson, presumably Penner.
But Gilliss was not to be dissuaded and kept up his email alerts.
On February 18, 2011 he warned that it wasn’t just the Peace Canyon dam that was at risk from fracking operations. The WAC Bennett dam, where two sinkholes were discovered at the crest of the 183-metre high structure in 1996, necessitated a rapid drawdown of the reservoir and hasty repairs.
“The Montney formation shale, which is being developed by these companies, may extend below the WAC Bennett Dam. This is concerning because the seismic stability of the dam may be questionable given the possibility of internal erosion of the core and transition (I have already added a Dam Safety issue in our Database on this subject),” Gilliss wrote.
On August 28, 2012, Gilliss wrote again with further concerns about the WAC Bennett dam. This time it was to report about a “strange oscillation event” or sudden, unexplained change in the water levels at Williston reservoir—the massive body of water impounded by the dam.
The event had occurred the month before, Gilliss said, and was considered so perplexing that BC Hydro officials flew over the entire reservoir the next day looking for an explanation.
The suspicion was that a massive amount of soil and rock had sloughed into the reservoir—a possibility, given the notoriously slide-prone banks of the reservoir. But no sign of a big landslide was found.
With no means of checking for underwater slides, Gilliss and others began to contemplate the unthinkable—“that a frack opened up a fissure in the reservoir, and there was a release of gas, that could have displaced the water and caused the oscillation.”
This is where I point out that Site C is built on the same kind of unstable shale material, along even more unstable slopes. BC was given a demonstration of that instability when the slide happened just downstream from site c along the same bank as the infamous North Slope I’ve documented here in many aerial photos. I covered that slide and what was going on above it here, (where I also mention the concerns over fracking quakes and site c), and here. But lets move onto another excerpt.
As work continues at Site C, more earthquakes close by the construction site and the Peace Canyon dam upstream are almost a certainty. What is far from certain and completely unpredictable is how strong those future earthquakes might be.
On November 29, 2018, hundreds of workers at Site C were ordered to down tools and immediately evacuate the area after a “strong jolt” was felt.
As three scientists noted in a report submitted in February 2019 to Michelle Mungall, BC’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, no one can predict how large an earthquake may one day be triggered by a fracking or disposal well operation. That is just one of the many big “unknowns” and “uncertainties” flagged in the report’s 232 pages.
What is certain is that parts of the South Montney basin, including the area where November 2018’s big shake occurred, are extremely susceptible to “induced” earthquakes.
According to a report submitted in June 2019 to the Oil and Gas Commission by two independent geological experts, the “Kiskatinaw Seismic Monitoring and Mitigation Area,” which lies just south of the Peace River is riddled with fractures and faults, some of which are close to Site C. Given all of those naturally occurring faults and fractures, continued approval of fracking operations involves known risks with unknown consequences.
Less than one month after the ground shook with force at Site C in November 2018, Terry Oswell a dam safety engineer at BC Hydro was on a phone call with eight Commission personnel. The subject of the call was to discuss proposed fracking activities by Crew Energy, that were scheduled to take place nearby the Site C construction project in January 2019
Details of what was discussed on the call that day are contained in a subsequent email sent by Oswell on December 11 to two BC Hydro colleagues as well as at least two other individuals whose names are redacted from the FOI record.
The email noted that the Commission had “a shake map” for the earthquake that had been triggered just two weeks earlier by CNRL and that the Commission “would share it” with BC Hydro. Oswell went on to say:
“The OGC has asked operators in the area to provide information on the type and length of faults in their areas. They said the event on Nov 29th was in the graben area [a reference to depressed area of the earth’s crust bordered by parallel faults] which may be conducive to larger events but that the . . . [area] where Crew is working may also have the same type of faulting.”
By then, BC Hydro also knew that there were numerous faults in near proximity to the Site C dam, including two parallel faults that pointed like fingers toward the dam site and that came very close to reaching it—faults that if reactivated, could have significant consequences in the event of a strong earthquake.
In the same email, Oswell recalled some of the questions Commission personnel on the call asked. The questions indicated that Commission personnel knew that a strong earthquake was at least a possibility, and that if it was strong enough, it could have significant implications for at least a portion of the workers at the Site C dam.
So, just to be clear here. It has been known forever that the Peace Canyon dam has a foundational issue and may suffer extensive damage in a fairly small magnitude quake. Its been known it needed seismic upgrades and essentially ignored, not unlike the WAC Bennett dam riprap repairs that I detailed extensively here, that were identified in 1998, and were not repaired until 2016!
That information regarding all this was not revealed in the Joint Review Panel hearings into Site C, I’m told, and one wonders why. And this is why it matters.
The BC Liberals made LNG their hail Mary that never actually happened before Clark lost the election and her party booted her as leader. Ironically, Horgan picked up the ball and ran with it, doubling down on the subsidies being offered to offshore companies to try and entice them to make a FID in BC. And it worked. In October 2018, Canada LNG announced their final investment decision to proceed in BC.
That decision spurred an ongoing expansion of gas development in north eastern BC,including the Peace Region, which will inevitably bring more quakes, and it is anyone’s guess what size they will be or where they will occur. And without a hard exclusion zone around these dams, there is no certainty a preventable disaster won’t occur in the future.
Despite and against their own engineers documented concerns over decades, BC Hydros NDP appointed president says everything is fine, the dams are all safe and can withstand fracking earthquakes.
Even the ones built before fracking was a widespread and common occurrence in the region.(??) And while O’Riley points out there are no operations within 10km of the Peace and WAC Bennett dam, it is critical to note the quake that jolted Site C in 2018, came from an operation 20kms away and still resulted in a tools down order until everything could be inspected.
How would have a quake that size impacted the Peace Canyon dam? And how are his words any assurance to the people living downstream when the government seems blind to creating a wider exclusion zone to mitigate seismic risks?