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Environmentalists Fight Fresh-Water Fracking

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - British Columbia's Oil and Gas Commission illegally allows drillers to use fresh water in fracking operations, environmentalists claim in court.

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club claim the commission illegally allows Encana Corp. to divert fresh water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which "involves injecting large quantities of fresh water, sand and chemicals at high pressure down into wellbores. The pressurized mixture causes the rock later to fracture and release the natural gas trapped in the formation."

The petition in B.C. Supreme Court puts "On notice" the provincial Oil and Gas Commission, the B.C. attorney general, and Encana Corp.

The environmental groups says they are "concerned about the environmental impacts that may result from the significant quantities of fresh water that are being used and diverted from lakes, rivers, streams and source water dugouts in northeast British Columbia for oil and gas production."

The long-term effects of the water diversions "are poorly understood by the Commission and the public," the petition states, adding that the "unlawful water use includes additional pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems that are already under stress from industrial development and climate change."

The commission "routinely grants approvals" for water diversion licenses for short-term use, according to the petition, but "repeated" approvals violate the term limits of 24 months prescribed by the Water Act, which applies only to surface water, not groundwater.

British Columbia's provincial government under Premier Christy Clark has been championing natural gas development as an economic savior, while environmentalists have been fervently opposed to the liquefied natural gas boom, claiming the risks to the province's legendary wilderness are too great to ignore.

The groups are represented by Morgan Blakley and Karen Campbell with Ecojustice in Vancouver.

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