Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Photo of hemp marine rigging by Patrice Dufour from FreeImages

By Gavin MacRae

On a summer backpacking trip through the Amazon 20 years ago, Michael Demone witnessed the destruction of deforestation first-hand. Determined to do something and brimming with youthful optimism, he returned home and opened one of Canada’s first hemp shops.

“It wasn’t a headshop. There were no bongs,” he says. “It was beautiful fabrics, and bicycle chain lubricant, and tree-free papers.”

Back then, hemp was a boutique industry. Demone had trouble sourcing products, and with the shelves near empty, the store eventually closed.

Two decades later, a lot has changed: cannabis is legal, hemp farming has been decriminalized in the United States, and entrepreneurs are clamouring for a grubstake in the “green gold rush” of the Cannabidiol (CBD) market.

But these developments are forerunners to what promises to be the most important advance involving the cannabis sativa plant: hemp for fibre.


Hemp to replace cotton

Hemp fibre can, in large part, replace cotton, with big environmental benefits.

Versus US cotton, the ecological footprint of hemp is one-third to a half smaller, depending on how the hemp is cultivated and processed, according to a 2010 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Even organic cotton has a higher ecological footprint, per ton of fibre, than conventionally cultivated hemp.

“Currently, cotton is king,” says Andrew Riseman, an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “But cotton takes an enormous amount of water, pesticides, and energy to produce and then to refine, and it doesn’t have the durability or the advantageous characteristics that hemp would have.”

Hemp fibre can also be used to make low-carbon building materials and bio-composites, and can substitute for wood fibre in pulp and paper production.

In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours

Hemp, or more properly industrial hemp, is easy to confuse with cannabis, because on paper it’s the same plant. In practice, hemp and cannabis look and are grown differently. And hemp won’t get you high – it has only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp is bred to produce high fibre yield, high seed yield, or a dual-purpose compromise between the traits.

Until recently, nearly all hemp grown in Canada was grown for food. To farm hemp for fibre, a hurdle remained.

It was “classic chicken and egg,” says Jan Slaski, a long time hemp researcher with InnoTech Alberta, an arm of the Alberta Innovates provincial research institute. Farmers were reluctant to grow hemp without a steady market for fibre, and markets and processing infrastructure couldn’t develop without hemp product.

Hemp yarn photo by S. Schleicher from FreeImages

It’s only in the last few years that the hemp industry has weakened this market catch-22, Slaski says, and now, “It’s a different ballgame.”

A hundred kilometres east of Edmonton, Slaski and his team run a hemp research and processing facility in Vegreville, Alberta, to develop applications for hemp “from seed to final product.” Strong demand now has the facility working extended hours processing hemp for fibre.

Not far from Vegreville, in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation is building a similar “decortication” facility to process hemp fibre grown by contracted farmers in the area. The facility will remove the lignin and pectin from the fibre to produce the short, consistent fibres sought for textiles, bio-composites and paper.

With these high value fibres, “cotton can be replaced, a lot of synthetic products can be replaced, tree products can be replaced.” says Aaron Barr, Canadian Rockies Hemp’s CEO. “There’s a lot of different market opportunities, but the key is advancing the technology.”

Countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, and the Netherlands have a long head start on Canada in the hemp trade, says Barr, but he’s not worried – longer summer daylight at northern latitudes can add four feet of extra growth to hemp plants by summers’ end.

“In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours. It gives us literally one of the best geographical advantages in the world. CBD, THC, those type of flowering plants will do better in the south. We are fit for fibre.”

As the technology and processing muscle advances, entrepreneurs are taking formerly-cottage-industry hemp applications to commercial scale.


Biocomposites & building materials

Take hempcrete, a mixture of hemp biomass and lime used as a building material since ancient times. In modern construction, hempcrete can substitute for concrete in many applications.

Just Biofiber of Airdrie, Alberta, manufactures a construction system of hempcrete blocks that are load bearing, insulating, fire resistant, fast to build with, and that, Just Biofiber says, embody more carbon than is released in their manufacture.

“Instead of cutting down trees we can grow a crop in our fields in 90 days, and build houses that are better quality homes with it,” says Barr. “Healthier homes that last longer. There are unbelievable advantages to it.”

InnoTech’s Vegreville facility supplies fibre to BioComposites Group in Drayton Valley, Alberta. The company produces a diverse array of hemp products, from fibre mats for erosion control and horticultural use to hemp-based bio-composite sheets that can be moulded to form complex shapes such as interior car parts.

Many moulded products now made from oil or natural gas feedstocks such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and glass-reinforced thermoplastics, are candidates for replacement, says BioComposites Group.

The hemp composites are lighter than the products they replace and fully biodegradable when used with organic resins.

Slaski’s first research into hemp was as a fibre source for an Alberta pulp mill. The mill had run out of forest, Lorax style, within a reasonable hauling distance. The research was scrapped, says Slaski, after a new CEO decided the company “was not comfortable dealing with non-woody crops.”

The missed opportunity left Slaski with tantalizing statistics.

“It is safe to assume that hemp can produce about four to five times more fibre per hectare than forest,” Slaski says. “On average, boreal forest produces one-to-two tons per hectare of biomass per year, while fibre-type varieties of hemp produce eight-to-ten tons per hectare.”

That’s with one crop. In warmer climates, two crops a year can be grown.

Apparently, a Maryland, USA company is comfortable with non-woody crops. Fibonacci LLC is investing US$5.8 million in a factory in Kentucky to produce a wood substitute from hemp stalks, according to the trade journal Woodworking Network. The company says their product is 20 per cent harder than red oak, and plans to market it for use in flooring and furniture.

All this is happening with the current state of technology. With further research into genetics and agricultural practices, more applications and products will emerge.

“I think prohibition set us back about a century,” says Riseman. “[Hemp] was the plant that did everything, the workhorse plant. And now we have all these tools that we’ve applied to corn and wheat and cotton, and you see the yield increases and how much more efficient and productive we have become…. [Hemp’s] been bred for low THC or long fibres, no one’s talked about what else we could breed for.”

Hemp is truly versatile, but over-zealous advocates have attributed near super-botanical abilities to the plant. Experts caution that wild claims online about hemp, such as it having “over 50,000 uses,” are “fantastic,” “ridiculous,” and “bro science.”

“One misconception is that hemp doesn’t require fertilizer, water, is pest resistant, is just a miracle crop,” says Slaski. “I would say, yes, hemp can survive on marginal land – survive – but if you want to grow a crop that you want to get paid for, you have to provide inputs, because there are no miracles in hemp.”

We have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values

After some 80 years of prohibition, hemp cultivation was legalized federally in the United States in late 2018. As one observer put it, “it’s basically the starting gun” for US hemp farming.

The end of US hemp prohibition should be a rising tide that benefits both countries by lifting hemp to its rightful place among other mainstay crops.

Because of this, and despite a 20-year lead in decriminalizing hemp, Canada must position itself as a world leader in hemp fibre to stay in the driver’s seat, Slaski says.

“The US is a larger country, with more money to invest in the opportunity. They will be a serious competitor to our hemp industry.”

Read more at the Watershed Sentinel: Fibreshed: a movement for full-circle local fibre production finds its roots on Vancouver Island

Michael Demone has long since traded his backpacking duds for business attire. He now leads the Canadian Working Group on Industrial Hemp, which he describes as “part advocacy group, part support system” for developing new hemp products.

For Demone, the quickly evolving promise of hemp fibre is “like the Renaissance” and he believes “round two” could herald more than environmental benefits.

“To get philosophical, I think we have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values. And that means including talks about labour, about Indigenous voices, about women in manufacturing, all of these things, it’s just ready to blow. We need responsible people who will say ‘look, we want to make some money, we want to advance this industry, there are some really significant environmental benefits.’ It’s going to take investment and it’s going to take businesses willing to take some risks.”

Gavin MacRae is the Watershed Sentinel’s assistant editor. The Sentinel is a publishing partner of Decafnation.









The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113) removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. This action removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes. Read more

— Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance


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Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

Gavin MacRae photos

By Gavin MacRae

A jovial yet determined crowd of student strikers and adult supporters over 250 strong marched through downtown Courtenay Friday, to demand action on climate change.

The protest started with a rally at Courtenay City Hall.


The crowd cheered as speakers said it was time to “stand up and fight back” against fossil fuel interests and insufficient government action.

“We are here today under a unified cause to protest climate change,” said Nalan Goosen, a co-organizer of the event.

Speaking through a megaphone, Goosen said investments in the tar sands and other fossil fuel infrastructure make Canadian banks culpable for climate change.

To showcase this, the demonstration traced a serpentine route through the downtown to pause and protest at CIBC, Bank of Montreal, and Scotia Bank.

Outside CIBC the crowd chanted, “No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil!”

At Bank of Montreal the rallying cry was, “What do we want? Climate Action! When do we want it? Now!”

Finally, the Scotia Bank received, “Corporate greed we must fight, polluting earth is not a right!”

The crowd also made a stop at the office of MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, where she and MP Gord Johns spoke with the demonstrators.
Both politicians gave short impromptu speeches on the importance of protecting the environment.

Students put questions to Leonard and Johns about increasing climate education in the school system, protecting old-growth forest and marine areas and fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The answers met with some applause, and Goosen said he was hopeful Leonard would bring the demonstrators’ concerns about old-growth logging to Doug Donaldson, BC’s Minister of Forests. Goosen was also hopeful Johns would echo the students’ concern over the climate crisis in Ottawa.

The protest ended with a return to City Hall.

Students said all but two schools in Comox and Courtenay were represented among the protesters.

“The turnout was amazing,” said Mackai Sharp, a co-organizer of the protest. “The last two events had under 35 people.”

Sharp and Goosen are leaders of the Comox Valley-based Youth Environmental Action, which planned the protest. The group has a separate arm for adults named Adult Allies for Youth Environmental Action.

”This will not be our last protest, said Goosen. “We don’t have very long to solve the climate crisis, so this movement of youth empowerment is essential to our health and survival.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation



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How ocean acidification is reshaping marine food webs

How ocean acidification is reshaping marine food webs

Late afternoon view down the Strait of George  /   George Le Masurier photo

By Gavin MacRae

The depths of the ocean are slowing climate change, but at a cost. Seawater acidity is increasing as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

Average surface ocean pH is now 30 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times. In a business-as-usual scenario, by 2100, ocean water could be over one-and-a-half times more acidic.

The effects of ocean acidification can be grouped into “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns,” says Wiley Evans, a chemical oceanographer leading ocean acidification research for the Hakai Institute. Evans is riffing on an old Donald Rumsfeld quote because, although the underlying chemistry is straightforward, the full consequences of ocean acidification are uncharted.

“A lot of what is unknown is at the species level,” he says. Only a handful of organisms have been thoroughly tested for their response to rising acidity. “And then there’s the ecosystem response – how impacts on one organism is going to affect the whole food web, and the ecosystems that those organisms reside in. So pretty quickly it snowballs into a lot of unknowns.”

Biologists, chemical and physical oceanographers, geneticists, and other experts are now working together to investigate these unknowns. Research into ocean carbonate chemistry has been done since the 1970s, but only in 2003 did the term ocean acidification come into use. It’s now an “exploding field,” says Evans. “It really is interdisciplinary, it relies on the physics and the biology, and the ecosystem level [research], and so ecologists and modellers and everyone is really working together to try and understand the breadth of the problem.”

The dynamic ocean environment makes the research complex. “The pH of the ocean changes constantly,” says Mark Spalding, president of the Ocean Foundation, an environmental organization based in Washington, DC. “It fluctuates daily, it fluctuates seasonally, it fluctuates with El Niño events, it fluctuates when you have an upwelling from the deep ocean.”

Ocean acidity also differs by location. Natural factors dominate the exchange of atmospheric carbon dioxide into the ocean, but just as with atmospheric carbon, additional emissions have tipped the scales.

Ocean acidification also has to be disentangled from other co-occurring climate change stressors such as warming water and deoxygenation. Each effect is worrying on its own; combined, these multiple stressors are greater than the sum of their parts.

Despite this complexity, ocean acidification is caused by simple chemical reactions.

“It’s pretty much just like high school level chemistry,” says Evans. “As you increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it’s not all going to stay there, it’s going to want to move into an area of lower concentration, and CO2 gas will dissolve into seawater.”

When carbon dioxide in the air reacts with seawater it forms carbonic acid. This carbonic acid then breaks down into bicarbonate and a hydrogen ion.

The pH of a solution (how acidic or basic it is) is determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions – the more hydrogen ions, the more acidic. Ocean water hasn’t become an actual acid, but its alkalinity is declining.

Surplus hydrogen ions then bond with carbonate ions also found in seawater to form more bicarbonate.

Impact on shellfish

Many types of shelled organisms build their shells by combining carbonate ions with calcium to form calcium carbonate. But because some of the carbonate ions have already bonded with hydrogen ions, shellfish, mullusks, corals, and other shelled creatures face a scarcity of carbonate ions with which to build their shells.

“The first time we really noticed this was happening was with oysters in the Pacific Northwest of the United States,” says Spalding. “The largest oyster farming business in the world … saw a dramatic loss in production as a result of some acidic events.”

Since then, ocean acidification has become an ongoing concern for shellfish farmers, particularly for operations in developing countries lacking the technology to monitor and react to pH changes.

Shellfish are most vulnerable to acidity as tiny, newly hatched larvae, when they have to exert a tremendous amount of energy to build their first shell. The scarcity of carbonate can either prove fatal, or the shellfish “end up with very deformed shells and thinner shells, and become more susceptible to predators,” says Spalding.

The same threat applies to urchins, snails, seastars, and corals, although the exact chemical process can vary. In a study conducted near a volcanic seep which emulated future CO2 levels, “triton shell” sea snails were found to have their shell thickness halved, and in some cases so dissolved their body tissue was exposed.

The most urgent example of shell corrosion may be to creatures near the base of the food chain called pteropods, commonly known as sea butterflies.

“They look like minuscule snails with wings,” says Spalding, “and they’re having a very, very hard time forming their shells.”

Field observations have recently confirmed that pteropod shells in an area of increased acidity in the Gulf of Alaska are dissolving.

“If the ocean continues to have its chemistry change … we could have a rippling effect where the food resource for other animals in the ocean, and up the food chain, has a rippling collapse,” says Spalding.

For corals, ocean acidification is only one ingredient: “warmer waters, thanks to climate change, nutrient pollution, oxygen deprivation, and then you add in ocean acidification, and you’ve got a horrible recipe for collapse of coral systems,” says Spalding. “The current predictions are losses of 90 percent or more of our coral reefs by 2030.”

At rock bottom on the marine food chain are diatoms – microscopic, single-celled algaes encased in shells of transparent silica. They live near the surface of the ocean, transforming sunlight to sugars via photosynthesis. When they die, a percentage fall to the ocean floor, sequestering carbon.

Iron uptake in diatoms

Diatoms are immensely important to the marine food web, and to all life on earth – cycling about 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Research published in Nature in 2018 suggests ocean acidification could threaten diatom populations – but not by hindering shell formation. Increased acidity, for an unknown reason, prevents the uptake of iron that diatoms need to proliferate.

Diatom numbers are already in decline, and rising surface ocean temperatures are suspected. A crash in diatom populations could cripple the ocean’s ability to cycle carbon dioxide, accelerating further climate change.

Fish are not off the hook in the struggle to adapt to a more acidic environment, either. Tests conducted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries research lab showed salmon exposed to future pH levels were less responsive to the smell of salmon skin extract, which would normally warn the fish of a predator attack and prompt them to hide or flee.

Testing of the salmons’ nose and brain tissue indicated that the fish could still detect the scent, but were not interpreting and acting on the trigger.

Other behaviours relying on scent – reproduction, navigation, and finding food – are also likely affected. Similar research has shown elevated CO2 concentrations to blunt prey detection in sharks, and affect the ability of reef fish to discern healthy reef habitat.

Some species are predicted to benefit from ocean acidification, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Research from the Canary Islands suggests the algae Vicicitus globosus, found from temperate regions to the tropics, will thrive in rising CO2 levels. Toxic blooms of V.globosus are already known to cause fish kills, and now, researchers say, “may pose an emergent threat to coastal communities, aquaculture and fisheries.”

Krill probably OK

Other organisms may shrug off ocean acidification altogether. Krill are small crustaceans found in all oceans, and an essential food source for marine mammals and seabirds in the Southern Ocean.

In a 2018 study published in Communications Biology, adult Antarctic krill, in acidity simulating near-future conditions, were able to go about their business undisturbed. The krill’s resilience is attributed to a special structure in their gills able to balance body fluid pH. Krill eggs and embryos, however, don’t have this ability, so the results are not definitive.

The sum of these effects (and several more) put future food security in doubt. Evans says that the capacity of the oceans to feed us could be threatened when we need it most.

“We need to divest from cattle production, as they’re major contributors to CO2 emissions, and we’ll be relying more on aquaculture and fishing … and so we essentially could be in a bottleneck, where some of these species that we’re going to try and grow are going to have difficulty,” he said.

Ocean acidification may have caused events in the earth’s history that go well beyond concerns over food security. Research published in Science in 2015 puts forward the theory that modern day ocean acidification has chilling parallels with the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, also known by its cheerful nickname, the Great Dying.

Around 252 million years ago, volcanoes belched huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over tens-of-thousands of years. This in turn triggered a spike in ocean acidity that the research suggests killed up to 96% of marine life. During the Great Dying, CO2 levels in the ocean shot up about as quickly as they are today.

“Climate change is physics, and ocean acidification is chemistry,” says Spalding, “but they’re both the same carbon dioxide molecules. Our ocean is our biggest sink for our carbon emissions, but there are limits. It can only take so much.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation








For more than 200 years, or since the industrial revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the CO2 that is released in the atmosphere, and as levels of atmospheric CO2 increase, so do the levels in the ocean.

When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant.

Carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral skeletons. Decreases in carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying organisms such as oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton.

These changes in ocean chemistry can affect the behavior of non-calcifying organisms as well. Certain fish’s ability to detect predators is decreased in more acidic waters. When these organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk.

Ocean acidification is affecting the entire world’s oceans, including coastal estuaries and waterways. Many economies are dependent on fish and shellfish and people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein.

— from National Ocean Service, a division of NOAA


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Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Comox Valley man working AVICC to ban groundwater extraction

Photo Caption

By Gavin MacRae

Vancouver Island Groundwater Rights Update Water rights advocate Bruce Gibbons is on a mission to end licensing of groundwater extraction for bottled water on Vancouver Island. And if that goes well, for all of BC.

Gibbons is burning shoe leather and working the phone to encourage all 53 districts and municipalities in the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) to support an upcoming motion requesting the provincial government stop issuing well licenses to bottle water. If the motion passes, it heads to a province-wide vote at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

Gibbons said preventing groundwater bottling is a “no brainer” for many coastal communities, and several town councils have voted to support the AVICC motion on-the-spot after listening to his presentation.

The other half of Gibbons’ two-pronged approach is to ensure that there is a back-up if the AVICC motion fails. Gibbons discovered most towns need to amend the language of their bylaws if they want to prevent commercial bottling of groundwater, and he’s encouraging them
to do so

“When people wrote bylaws for their communities, they weren’t thinking of bottling water, so in most cases it’s not an actual conscious decision to allow it or not allow it,” he said. “[Communities] look at their bylaws and say ‘well it looks like if it came down to a decision, this
particular bylaw would allow it because it doesn’t expressly prohibit it,’ so they’re finding themselves in a position where they need to revise their bylaws to expressly prohibit bottled water.”

According to Gibbons, a dozen AVICC communities now have bylaws on the books that specifically forbid bottling groundwater. Twenty five AVICC communities have bylaws that doallow groundwater bottling (several of these are working to amend their bylaws). The bylaw
status of the remaining communities is unknown.

AVICC communities have been largely supportive of Gibbons urging a review of old bylaws. The exception has been Langford, where Gibbons said planning officials were uncooperative and appeared confused by his request.

“It was just a really weird experience with them. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t believe in what I was doing. They just didn’t get it.”
He’s shaken off the minor failure and said regardless which way the AVICC vote goes, water rights in BC are advancing, and his campaign is worthwhile.

“When you get involved in something like this, you realize how many people there are who really devote a lot of time and energy to protecting our environment and the world we live in. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s a very positive thing.”

Gavin McRae is a reporter and assistant editor for the Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation


“Brooklyn Creek is a small creekshed whose hydrology and ecological services have been altered and degraded by decades of land use impacts,” — Tim Pringle in the preface to Assessing the Worth of Ecological Services Using the Ecological Accounting Process for Watershed Assessment: Brooklyn Creek Demonstration Application in the Comox Valley.




Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.


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Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

Comox Valley hears “Voices from the Sacrifice Zone’

By Gavin MacRae

ITwas a long rap sheet, but speakers from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment detailed the dangers of fracking to people in the Peace region of BC, this Sunday at the Florence Filberg Lounge.

Voices from the Sacrifice Zone was hosted by the Watershed Sentinel.

Frenetic natural gas development using fracking – an extraction procedure where high-pressure water, sand, and a cocktail of proprietary (and not publicly known) chemicals are pumped into gas wells to stimulate production – have rural residents of the Peace region “enmeshed like a spider’s web,” said event moderator Dr. Warren Bell.

The impacts of fracking are hard to miss: round-the-clock flaring of excess gas, open-pit wastewater ponds the size of small lakes, and the constant drone of diesel-powered equipment. Other effects are insidious, such as increased rates of terminal cancers and lung diseases.

Karen Leven, an environmental scientist from Dawson Creek, opened the event. She said 28,000 wells have been drilled in the Peace region since 2005. Future LNG capacity in BC is expected to prompt 100,000 more wells, and 85% of them will rely on fracking.

Leven described a region under siege from fracking activity, with few controls on the pace of development, and environmental recommendations ignored. People are “basically totally powerless” to control or stop fracking in their neighbourhoods, said Leven.

Fracking degrades surface and groundwater and air quality, impacts fish and wildlife, spikes methane emissions, and puts residents at risk of gas explosions and earthquakes, she said.

Leven said the disparity between environmental regulations in the mining industry versus oil and gas is “night and day.”

Retention ponds for mining operations must be double-lined, and spills are closely monitored and reported. Retention ponds for fracking wastewater are not required to be lined, said Leven. The wastewater is allowed to percolate into the ground. (A 2016 study published in Nature found fracking fluid can contain arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, and scores of other chemicals).

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm”

Gas has been touted as green energy which would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Levin, but when the effects of escaped methane emissions are factored, natural gas is a potent cause of climate change, disguised as a solution.

Married couple Pat and Jim Strasky operate a grain farm in the region. The view from their their farmhouse is dominated by multiple fracking sites, often flaring excess gas. An unlined, 70-acre fracking wastewater pond sits nearby, with a mountainous earth backdrop from its excavation. Jim struggles to move farming equipment down roads worn to muddy, rutted tracks from oil and gas trucks that can require 5000 trips per frack. Complaints about the road degradation are ignored.

“If there’s a frack on, there will be 100 trucks in 24 hours,” said Pat. “They’ll go by the house, day and night.”

During fracking, large-diameter water hoses can stretch for kilometres through culverts, in ditches, and over roads, immobilizing farming equipment.

“It’s incredible, the amount of material they pump down those holes, between the water and the frack sand, and the chemicals to got with it.”

The land for wellpads and other infrastructure has been pruned from the Agricultural Land Reserve, and Jim figured about 12% of their farmland had reduced yield.

Dr. Ulrike Meyer, a physician in Dawson Creek, talked about the health risks of living in the Sacrifice Zone. Cancer rates and respiratory conditions in the region are elevated – including pulmonary fibrosis, that Meyer suspects is linked to the silica from fracking fluid. Meyer said fracking can also bring naturally occurring radioactive material up from deep below the ground, but the link between the radioactive material and cancer rates is to-date unproven.

Assigning definitive blame to fracking is elusive because studies and data are scarce, said Meyer, but individual case studies are compelling.

One of her patients suffered from fainting spells and cognitive decline. Near his house sat a fracking wastewater holding tank the size of a swimming pool. In winter, propane heaters prevented the water from freezing, and steam would waft off the tank toward his house. When the tank was eventually removed, his health quickly rebounded. The current regulated back-set for wastewater tanks is 100m from a residence, and Meyer called on that to be extended to 1600m.

Testing of pregnant woman in Dawson Creek showed levels of benzene, a carcinogen and known endocrine disruptor, three times higher than normal. Levels of barium, strontium, manganese, and aluminum were also “way higher than the rest of the Canadian population,” said Meyer. A study by UBC showed the same metals are in the region’s water at elevated levels, and contamination from fracking is suspected.

Another effect of fracking are “boomtown” problems – lower education levels, and increased drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and crime.

“The industry needs to prove to the public that they are not causing harm,” said Meyer. She called for a full public inquiry on the effects of fracking to human health, drinking water, and the environment.

The event ended on an upbeat note with Don Pettit, a renewable energy expert in the Peace Region, speaking on how to move past fossil fuels and the problems they create. “We are now in the midst of the most dramatic and important energy transition in human history. The shift to the new clean energies of wind, solar, conservation, and energy efficiency provides clear answers to our global problems,” said Pettit.

“We know what the problems are, we know how to fix them, and the tools to do so are in our hands.”

Gavin MacRae is a reporter and assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is headquartered in the Comox Valley and is a publishing partner of Decafnation.







1 — Fracking threatens water sources. A fracking project requires anywhere from 10 million to 90 million litres of water per project, the equivalent of roughly 4 to 36 Olympic-sized swimming pools. There is no method to safely dispose of fracking wastewater. The injection of fracking wastewater into the ground has been linked to earthquakes.

2 — Fracking makes climate change worse. Some industry and government officials are promoting fracked natural gas as a “clean, green fuel,” but studies show that this type of gas can produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal.

3 — Fracking puts public health at risk. Fracking companies are not required to disclose how many – or even what kinds – of chemicals they use. Studies have shown that many of the chemicals (the ones we do know about) cause serious health problems such as cancer or organ damage.

4 — We need green jobs. Fracking is a threat to farming, tourism and other sustainable industries. Rather than continuing to frack for natural gas or oil, we should look for sustainable solutions to transition off of fossil fuels.

5 — Fracking opens the door to other mega projects. Fracking projects can lead to a network of fracked gas pipelines, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals, export projects, and LNG super tankers that impact our watersheds and climate and the health and safety of our communities.

For more information about the Council of Canadians’ campaign to ban fracking visit canadians.org/fracking.




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