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Thousands of Quakes, Tied to Fracking, Keep Shaking the Site C Dam Region

Thousands of Quakes, Tied to Fracking, Keep Shaking the Site C Dam Region

Several recent reports on the tremors add to concerns about the mega-project’s stability.

Building the Site C dam in northeastern British Columbia is proving more difficult than officials predicted due to unstable ground on the northern bank. Adding to concerns: myriad earthquakes.

For nearly a decade, The Tyee has reported on a rising number of earthquakes caused by the hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in the region. Now, new studies put the number of such tremors in recent years in the many thousands, raising more worries about the future of the mega-project.

Researchers warn the shaking could become strong enough to crumble critical infrastructure such as roads, high-rise buildings — and dams.

B.C.’s regulatory practices try to limit fracking after small earthquakes have been triggered. But that’s “not sufficient to protect critical or vulnerable infrastructure that have unacceptable failure consequences,” noted seismic hazard expert Gail Atkinson in the May 7 issue of Nature Reviews.

No one can yet predict frack-triggered quakes before they happen, and “hazard forecasting” remains a “critical area of research.”

Another study, released this week by researcher Ben Parfitt at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, took data from federal earthquake catalogues to show how many tremors the fracking industry is producing near the Site C dam.

The numbers are staggering. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, the industry triggered 6,551 earthquakes greater than 0.8 magnitude in the region near the troubled mega-project with a price estimate of $12 billion and rising.

Drilling by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., for example, triggered a magnitude 4.6 earthquake in November 2018 that forced the evacuation of the Site C Dam site. It was followed by magnitude 3.5 and 4 events after the fracking ceased.

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