Ecojustice lawyers spent two days in BC Supreme Court earlier this week in a bid to protect British Columbia’s freshwater resources from being sucked dry for fracking operations, among other things.

We argued, on behalf of long-time clients Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee, that the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission’s practice of repeatedly granting short-term water approvals to oil and gas companies is unlawful.

When companies want long-term access to water for activities like natural gas extraction (ex. fracking) they need to apply for a water licence, a process that generally involves more oversight and public consultation.

Instead companies have relied on repeated short-term approvals — intended for short-term projects like roadwork or construction — to access huge quantities of freshwater. Under B.C.’s Water Act, there is a two-year limit to these approvals, but the Commission’s practice of repeatedly granting approvals has allowed oil and gas companies to, in some cases, use water for as long as five years without getting a water licence.

Now consider that the Commission can currently grant hundreds of approvals at a time. As we told the Court, just one bulk authorization allows Encana to access more than 100 sites and withdraw enough water to fill more than 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That’s a lot of water!