No new fracking under Swan Lake, says regional district

PRRD joins residents group, non-profit and First Nations in opposing new drilling under popular lake

The Peace River Regional District (PRRD) has joined the growing list of groups opposed to new hydraulic fracturing beneath a popular South Peace lake and provincial park.

On Thursday, the regional district moved to ask the province to restrict new drilling under Swan Lake, a seven square kilometre lake near the Alberta border. The move came in response a request from area resident Allen Watson that the PRRD take a position. 

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Watson is a member of the Swan Lake Enhancement Society (SLES), a residents and water stewardship group. The society began a campaign to stop new drilling beneath the lake late last year, after learning mineral rights beneath Swan Lake were up for auction. Watson and 318 lake users signed a petition to oppose new fracking, saying the risks to the lake and its watershed were too great. The McLeod Lake Indian Band and Ducks Unlimited Canada have also voiced concerns about oil and gas activity in the area.

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead, Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser and rural director Dan Rose opposed asking the province to stop new fracking in the area. The three believed opposing fracking under the lake was a “slippery slope.”

“The first step is we restrict this area, then we say what about these rivers? Then what about this heritage site?” said Bumstead. “The minute we start to take the position that we’re opposed [to fracking] in a particular location, you just open the door.”

Directors debated how far protections for bodies of water might go.

“If you’re contaminating a body of water, it’s much more difficult to clean up, and that deserves some extra protection,” said rural director Karen Goodings, saying she would support wider prohibitions on drilling beneath freshwater. 

The board weighed the option of asking the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to support limits on drilling under freshwater. However, since the group only deals with province-wide issues impacting local governments, some directors worried this would amount to a ban on fracking.

Pouce Coupe Mayor Bill Plowright, who also works in oil and gas, voted in favour of limits to drilling.

“I [worked] for a fracking company, so I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face here,” he said. “But what’s more important: the money, or the environment?

“I believe [fracking is] environmentally friendly, but I think there are other things at stake when it comes to waterways,” he said. “If anyone in this room lived on that lake, there’s no way they’d want fracking under the lake.” 

Bradley Sperling, who represents the rural area outside Fort St. John, suggested creating “no drilling” zone around the lake, saying such a zone is in place around Charlie Lake. District staff are researching that possibility, but Watson said horizontal drilling could still tap gas beneath the lake even if rigs were barred from the shores.

Encana acquired the rights to drill under the southern section Swan Lake for $4.7 million in February, which includes part of a provincial park. Murphy Oil has drilled several wells beneath the north end of the lake without incident.

The Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) maintains that oil and gas activity 2,600 metres below the lakebed poses almost no risk to the body of water, but at a community meeting earlier this year, an OGC official stopped short of guaranteeing the lake’s safety. 

reporter@dcdn.ca

 

UPDATE: A previous version of this article quoted Pouce Coupe Mayor William Plowright as saying "I work for a fracking company, so I'm cutting off my nose to spite my face here." Plowright has since said that while he had "worked" for a fracking company, he was not employed there at the time of his vote. He added the village of Pouce Coupe council had previously passed a motion asking for no further drilling under Swan Lake in December.

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