Opinion

Gas developments need good science

By Robin Archdekin

As Geoscience BC prepares to celebrate its ninth anniversary, it’s a good occasion to reflect on our success in creating excitement around mineral exploration in British Columbia, and to look ahead to tremendous new opportunities opening up in the province’s energy sector.

Since our inception in 2005, we’ve produced geoscience data supporting record mineral claim staking, and helped British Columbia jump from less than six per cent of Canadian exploration investment in 2001 to almost 20 per cent last year.

All of our research and the knowledge that supports it are publicly available. Our work is conducted at arm’s length from government — although government, along with First Nations, communities, industry and universities, is a supporter and partner.

Our overhead — the cost of running our office and outreach program — absorbs only five per cent of our annual budget. That means nearly all of the nearly $49 million we’ve received in provincial grants goes into research.

Going forward, we want to continue our world-class investigations of what lies under the surface of British Columbia’s rich and rugged terrain. We will evolve with the province’s economy, and as an independent entity, will develop and grow our research to support responsible development of British Columbia’s exceptional natural gas reserves.

Historically, our focus has been on mineral deposits, and we will maintain our commitment to that work. But as British Columbia takes steps toward the creation of a massive new industry based on underground energy resources, our vision for geoscience is expanding to keep pace.

Premier Christy Clark, Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman and other cabinet ministers have been working with industry and political leaders in Asia Pacific nations such as China and Japan to cultivate lasting business relationships with companies that want to invest tens of billions of dollars in British Columbia’s vast natural gas resources.

As we saw in October, with the announcement of a $650,000 air quality study for an area ranging from Kitimat to north of Terrace, the government recognizes that the success of this massive venture is tied to the support of local First Nations and communities. In Kitimat and Terrace, public decisions about support for LNG processing, oil refining and electricity generation will be based on accurate research and knowledge.

We’ve encountered similar expectations since we began research related to natural gas development in 2012. British Columbians seek assurances that another critical resource, water, will be protected.

In the Horn River Basin, in cooperation with First Nations, we are in the second year of a three-year program monitoring surface water quantity and water quality trends at seven individual stations. Our work includes tests for the presence of hydrocarbons ensuring ongoing protection of quality drinking water.

In the Montney Fairway region around Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, we envision doing the same type of surface water research on behalf of First Nations and other communities.

There is strong interest for us to extend our ongoing groundwater research program in northeast British Columbia. We’ve already reviewed thousands of historic drilling records to identify saline aquifers that could be tapped for industry to use in hydraulic fracturing operations in lieu of surface water.

Finally, in the untapped Liard Basin — potentially the largest of British Columbia’s natural gas deposits — there is interest for us to collect and provide baseline information about surface and groundwater resources before industrial development takes place.

British Columbians want reliable, accurate information to inform deliberations about natural gas development. Geoscience BC can be a chief source of this information and uphold the public interest by supporting the scientific groundwork for a strong and healthy economy.

Robin Archdekin is president and CEO of Geoscience BC, an industry-led organization that encourages mineral and oil and gas exploration investment in B.C.

 

 

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