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(Updated on: November 16-2012)

Fort Nelson First Nation to Discuss Massive Shale Gas Water Licenses Nov. 13 in Vancouver

Written by Damien Gillis Saturday, 10 November 2012

(Published in the Common Sense Canadian, http://thecanadian.org)

Leaders of Fort Nelson First Nation from northeast BC are coming to Vancouver to share their concerns over 20 new long-term water withdrawal licenses the BC Liberal Government is considering issuing for shale gas operations in their traditional territory.

One such license alone - for which natural gas giant Encana is expecting imminent approval - would enable the company to dam and divert up to 3 BILLION litres a year of fresh water from the Fort Nelson River, which is described by elders as the lifeblood of their territory and identified by the community as a cultural protection zone. Under the current Water Act, withdrawal licenses are valid for up to 40 years.

“We are extremely concerned about a massive giveaway of water from our rivers and lakes, without any credible process identifying what the long-term impacts will be on our land, our families and on our community” says Fort Nelson First Nation Chief, Sharleen Wildeman. The chief will lead a 10-person delegation of council members, elders and band staff to Vancouver Tuesday Nov. 13 to take their concerns to the media and public.

The public is invited to attend a town hall dialogue featuring Chief, Council and community members from Fort Nelson First Nation - Tuesday evening at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (800 E. Broadway). Doors open at 6:30 - event runs from 7-9:30 pm.

The evening, which is co-hosted by Council of Canadians and the Wilderness Committee, will also feature a presentation by leading independent water and energy expert Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Encana's license application, which would involve constructing a 20-metre concrete barrier across the river, is just one of 20 similar applications throughout the region, which could ultimately represent over a trillion litres of fresh water being diverted to shale gas production in the long-term. According to community representatives, "The water will be permanently withdrawn and mixed with highly toxic chemicals for shale gas extraction. Ultimately the majority of the water will be disposed of via 'deep oilfield injection'."

They also point out that Fort Nelson First Nation has worked for years with the natural gas industry and government to provide economic opportunities for it members and the entire province through responsible resource development. But the plan to issue these water licenses has forced the community to draw a line in the sand. After pursuing every other avenue available to it - including repeated efforts to reach out to the Province, which have gone ignored - the community feels it must now appeal to the public for support to put a stop to this plan and ensure the public and First Nations are properly consulted in the development of a responsible water management plan.

They insist that plan must include a comprehensive suite of safeguards for water - such as adequate baseline studies, multi-year development plans submitted by industry, environmental and industry monitoring, cumulative impacts assessment, and the ability to designate culturally significant land and water resources as off-limits to development.

To learn more on this important topic and find out how you can get involved, come be a part of the discussion with Fort Nelson First Nation and independent water and energy experts this Tuesday evening at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House.


Fort Nelson First Nation Press Release
Stop wholesale giveaway of water to
shale gas industry or face more legal challenges


November 13, 2012                             For immediate release

VANCOUVER - A rush by natural gas companies to acquire long-term rights to remove vast amounts of water from rivers and lakes must be stopped pending proper management Fort Nelson First Nation warned the BC government today.

“We are extremely concerned about a massive giveaway of water from our rivers and lakes, without any credible process identifying what the long-term impacts will be on our land, our families and on our community” said Fort Nelson First Nation Chief, Sharleen Wildeman.

There are 20 long-term water licence applications before the province that would permit natural gas companies to withdraw tens of billions of litres of water annually from rivers and lakes in Fort Nelson First Nation territory. The water will be permanently withdrawn and mixed with highly toxic chemicals for shale gas extraction. Ultimately the majority of the water will be disposed of via “deep oilfield injection”.

“First Nations are increasingly alarmed that the Clark government and industry are making decision after decision with very real long-term impacts on our land and our communities in a regulatory and scientific vacuum. It is offensive to our rights as First Nations and it demonstrates a total disregard to the ,single most important resource that we all share” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Water is our most precious natural resource. We have a duty to our communities and to future generations to ensure that our waters will sustain and nourish them.”

In a ground-breaking decision by BC’s Environmental Appeal Board last week, the Fort Nelson First Nation won the right under the provincial Water Act to appeal a provincial government decision awarding Nexen Inc. rights to withdraw 2 billion litres of water per year out of North Tsea Lakes. The province opposed the Nation’s legal right to do so.

“We will continue to fight all water licence decisions until the Province comes to the table with local and First Nations communities to plan how we will address this new and unprecedented rush for water in our land” Chief Wildeman said.

The Fort Nelson First Nation has actively sought to work cooperatively with natural gas companies, the Oil and Gas Commission and the BC government to address oil and gas activities in its territory, and accepts that some level of industry activity will occur. However, the Nation is demanding several reforms.

• Before water licences are issued, full regional baseline studies must be completed.

• Gas companies and the provincial government must submit multi-year pre-development plans. The plans would identify all proposed water sources, gas-well sites and other proposed infrastructure prior to any development permits being applied for.

• A mutually agreed, cumulative effects and environmental assessment processes must be in place to ensure that gas industry water withdrawals are capped at an ecologically acceptable level.

• Culturally significant land and water resources must be protected and made off-limits to industry activities.

• Lastly, industry water withdrawals and associated gas extraction activities must be subject to rigorous monitoring and enforcement efforts by an independent body.

“Failure to embrace these fundamental reforms will lead to increasing yet avoidable conflict,” Chief Wildeman said. “It is time for the province and the industry to address our longstanding concerns.”

For more information contact:
Fort Nelson First Nation: Lana Lowe lana.lowe@fnnation.ca or 250-500-1072
Union of BC Indian Chiefs: Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President (250) 490-5314


Native band in northeast B.C. pushes for water licensing reform

by Mark Hume,
November 13, 2012,
The Globe and Mail

“All of a sudden we’re having trouble catching fish … Our rivers are getting harder to navigate … it’s almost like somebody drilled a hole in the bottom of the bathtub,” Mr. Loe said in Vancouver at a news conference to express aboriginal concerns about increasing water extraction by industry. Sharleen Wildeman, chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation, said her band has grown alarmed at the growing needs of the gas industry, which draws water from streams, lakes and rivers. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals in a slurry that is injected deep under ground. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, breaks up shale structures and releases gas deposits. Ms. Wildeman, whose 800-member band is located near the booming Horn River gas fields, said industry in that area has 20 long-term water licence applications before the B.C. government. If those licences are approved, she said, it would authorize industry to withdraw “tens of billions of litres of water annually” for up to 40 years, for use in fracking operations. “We are extremely concerned about a massive giveaway of water from our rivers and lakes, without any credible process identifying what the long-term impacts will be,” she said.

Ms. Wildeman is upset with a government consultation process “that has stalled,” and she said the band is demanding five conditions be met before any new water licences are approved. She said the band wants baseline environmental studies done before licences are issued; multi-year development plans filed in advance to identify proposed water sources, gas-well sites, roads and camps; environmental plans that cap water withdrawals at ecologically acceptable levels; protection of culturally significant land and water resources, and an agreement that environmental impact monitoring and enforcement will be done by an independent body. “Failure to embrace these fundamental reforms will lead to increasing yet avoidable conflict,” Ms. Wildeman said.

Last June, the Fort Nelson First Nation signed a gas consultation agreement with the B.C. government, but Kathi Dickie, a band councillor, said that deal has not come in to practice yet. Meanwhile, she said, industry is forging ahead with development in the region, and water licences that could be in place for decades are awaiting government approval. “We feel we’ve been pushed into a corner,” Ms. Dickie said.

She said the band called the news conference in the hopes of drawing attention to an issue that has made her community increasingly frustrated, but which has not got much attention in urban centres. “We need your help,” she said, addressing her comments to the general public. “We need people to pressure the government.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said provincial and national native organizations support the band’s call for greater restrictions on water licences. “We’ll do whatever it takes to stop this travesty,” he said of the industry demands for water.

Mike Forgo, vice-president of stakeholder relations for Encana Corp., said his company is applying for one long-term licence in the area and would like to see the band and the government work things out. “Certainly we’d like to see a better relationship between the Fort Nelson First Nation and the Crown,” he said, adding he didn’t know what efforts the government has made in consulting with the band. Brennan Clarke, a spokesman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, said in an e-mail the government is in the process of negotiating an agreement with the band that would deal with long-term water licences and other issues. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement soon,” he said, giving assurances the government is properly regulating the use of water. “All water licence applications are subjected to a thorough technical and scientific review by ministry staff and other relevant government agencies to ensure sound decisions.” [Emphasis added]

Independent MLAs support Fort Nelson First Nation in water conflict

Posted on November 15, 2012 by RSMLA Administrator

Independent MLAs Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington are standing with the Fort Nelson First Nation in its call for thorough government consultation and investigation into the impact of long-term water licences related to hydraulic fracking in northern BC.

“In 2011 we asked the government about the public consultation process for these types of massive water withdrawals, and they assured British Columbians that there would be ‘extensive consultation, discussion, and negotiations with First Nations,’” says Simpson. “The fact that the Fort Nelson First Nation has had to go public with their concerns means this simply hasn’t happened. The NDP has also been silent on this issue, and we’d like to know where they stand.”

The long-term water licences under consideration could divert billions of litres of fresh water per year from the northeast to natural gas extraction projects. The Fort Nelson First Nation has created an online petition calling on the government to stop issuing long-term licences until it fully consults with First Nations groups.

“The government is being disingenuous when it says consultation and investigation has taken place,” says Huntington. “Last year, I asked the Minister of Environment why he had no watershed management plan for the Northeast.  He said the government has delegated this job to the Oil and Gas Commission, which must justify issuing long-term water licences to its industry partners. But where is the accountability when promises of consultation are broken and cumulative impact studies are non-existent?”

The Fort Nelson First Nation’s plan for responsible water management includes: environmental baseline studies; industry development plans; environmental and industry monitoring; cumulative impacts assessment; and the ability to protect culturally significant land and water resources from development.

“They’re asking for the right things,” says Simpson. “There needs to be proper consultation, baseline studies, and investigation into the long-term consequences of the permanent withdrawal and toxification of water. We should be conserving this resource, and a proper economic valuation of water might force these companies to get serious about finding other means to extract natural gas.”

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes that BC’s water pricing is far lower than in other parts of the country. Natural gas companies in BC pay nothing for water under short-term licences, and just $2.75 per 2,500 cubic metres under long-term licences, compared to $175 in Quebec.

Simpson and Huntington have both signed the Fort Nelson First Nation’s online petition. In 2011 they were joined by 21 organizations and prominent British Columbians in calling for a government review of hydraulic fracking.

The Fort Nelson First Nations petition is available here: http://tinyurl.com/FN-fracking