BC Hydro responds to concerns about fracking and dam safety

Recent concerns about fracking near BC Hydro’s hydroelectric power assets have led to a statement from the Canadian utility regarding their safety and stability.

Fracking — a process of subsurface drilling — has been blamed for creating seismically unstable geographical conditions in areas where it is practiced, which could be potentially ruinous to reservoir-retaining infrastructure like dams.

BC Hydro deputy CEO Chris O’Riley said concern around his company’s facilities is minimal, however, given their design and existing agreements with the BC Oil and Gas Commission.

“First, it is important to note that to BC Hydro’s knowledge, there has never been any fracking activity within five kilometers of BC Hydro’s dams,” O’Riley said in a statement. “That said, our dams are built to withstand much larger ground motions associated with higher magnitude events that are much longer in duration than fracking.

“In fact, our dams can withstand events many times larger than those associated with fracking. Fracking by itself cannot generate large magnitude earthquakes.”

An agreement with the BC Oil and Gas Commission restricts new fracking activity within five kilometers of BC Hydro dams — including the 1.1-GW Site C hydropower plant, while the commission must also notify BC Hydro of any new activities.

“These discussions have been precautionary in nature to ensure appropriate operational and maintenance activities if required in the future,” O’Riley said. “BC Hydro’s dam safety program is fully and independently regulated and the Provincial Comptroller of Water Rights is regularly advised of such discussions, which was done in this case. In 2014, BC Hydro released the results of a world class, six-year seismic study on probabilistic seismic hazards related to our dams, which was communicated extensively to the public.”

The company noted that its earth-fill dams are purposefully designed to have some seepage, and though fracking could increase the amount of flow under and around some infrastructure, the dams’ safety is not an issue.

“Our highest responsibility is public safety,” O’Rley said. “Our dam safety program meets the highest standards including 24/7 instrumentation monitoring, weekly inspections, bi-annual engineering reports and regular reviews of all our dams by international, independent experts. Over the next 10 years, BC Hydro is investing approximately $1.9 billion in dam safety across the province.”

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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