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Gas, roads and earthquakes

Lively meeting brings officials to Upper Halfway

Representatives from some of the biggest oil and gas companies, as well as some government agencies, gathered in the Halfway Community Hall to meet with members of the Upper Halfway community last Tuesday.

They were there to provide updates on pipeline expansion in the area, as well as discuss some ongoing road maintenance problems and minor earthquakes that have been plaguing the area. Karen Goodings, the chair of the Peace River Regional District, led the meeting, and kept the agenda moving along despite some intermittent tension, especially surrounding local roads.

The TransCanada Corporation is currently proposing a sweet natural gas pipeline to go through the area, broken into two sections. The first section begins southwest of Fort St. John, and runs for 182 km northeast, just past Hudson's Hope.

The second section then continues north from there, running 119 km, just past the Alaska Highway. Currently, approval from the National Energy Board to proceed is expected in April of this year, and construction is expected to begin in 2015. The line is expected to be in service between 2017 and 2019.

Spectra Energy is also building a pipeline in the area, from Cypress down to just past Hudson's Hope, before it winds west towards the coast.

"We actually cross very little private property between here and Prince Rupert," said Rod Locke, spokesperson for Spectra. Unlike TransCanada, Spectra won't begin construction for a couple of years, as they're still undergoing the environmental assessment.

The crowd attempted to good-naturedly pit the two competing companies against each other by seeing if either of them could foot the propane bill for heating the community centre where the meeting took place.

"Why not use natural gas?" asked one of the residents.

A representative from Progress Energy Canada is an LNG company, which in 2013 drilled 140 wells just in northeast B.C., with 25-30 rigs operating until breakup. The spokesperson for that company stated that their projections for this year was 250 wells, and approximately 200 wells each year following.

Shell was also on hand, and announced that it has been exploring the Gundy Creek area, up north. When asked if they'd be moving closer to the Upper Halfway area, Carson Newby, Shell Canada's community liaison officer, responded that, that is "the big golden question," but it was likely that they could see some activity in the coming years. That answer led to a discussion on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking safely

Some residents were concerned that there might be some negative effects of fracking, if Shell were to move into the area. Newby responded that he believed given time, the industry could prove that it was being done safely. He pointed to other nearby communities as examples of where there had been no negative effects of any kind.

"Most of the questions coming back today are is fracking safe?" said Newby.

"The media ran away with this about 5 years ago, and industry has been trying to catch up, and tell their side of the story for quite a while ... Never say 'never,' but we're pretty confident that fracking itself doesn't have any bearing on water resources."

Road woes

With all of the pipeline and drilling work being done in the area, residents are concerned that the roads were not meant to stand the amount of traffic that will come with it. Many residents did not hesitate to express those concerns.

"In other words, we should expect a lot of road work being done here in the next couple of years," said one resident, in response to hearing about the two pipelines that will come through the area. "This road isn't meant for that kind of traffic."

Another resident asked that the companies lobby the government to secure funding to maintain the roads.

Bryan Crosby from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure faced a comparatively hostile crowd to explain that slide sites in the area cannot be avoided. Slide sites are common, and can have a significant effect on the road's utility.

"Induced seismicity"

Dan Walker, the senior petroleum geologist for the BC Oil and Gas Commission, was on hand to provide an explanation as to why many residents were experiencing tremors. Walker called the phenomenon "induced seismicity," which he defined as an earthquake related to human activity.

"We think we have multiple cases of induced seismicity related to fluid injection in northeast B.C.," said Walker.

"The fluid injection is from oil wells, it is from fracking, and there is also a case of a water flood fluid injection."

When asked how many people at the meeting had felt any of these tremors, about five people raised their hands visibly. One resident said that he felt two to three per day. "It feels like someone drove a truck into the side of the house," he said.

"The house was swinging around, and there were crashes and bangs. We've had crashes and bangs all this last month here," said another woman. "In the past two weeks we've had five," said another woman.

In response to the event, the commission said it has increased their seismograph network in northeast B.C. to 60 stations, with two more on the way. Companies have also been installing dense arrays to their equipment to gather information.

The commission explained that they are beginning to get an idea of how to manage future events.