B.C. Regulated Water Use
The Commission regulates aspects of the water used in oil and gas activities from both surface and subsurface sources. The scope of authority for surface water is contained under the Water Act. The Commission administers authority over subsurface water through water source wells, water injection wells and water disposal wells. Operators must report water withdrawals, injections, or disposals into associated wells on a monthly basis. This reporting is done in the same manner that oil and natural gas production is reported.
Water Act: Section 8
Short Term Use Water Approvals are found under the Water Act in Section 8 and are currently issued for a term currently not exceeding 12 months. These are issued by the Commission under authority provided by Section 8 of the Oil and Gas Activities Act.
Most Section 8 water approvals are for specified diversion points on a water body. Some Section 8s, however, do not have a specific diversion point, but instead allow a small withdrawal (up to 45 m3/day, to a maximum of 5,000 m3/year) from any lake or stream in a specified drainage basin.
The Commission currently approves Section 8 authorities citing maximum water volumes. Actual use is typically much smaller than the approved volume. Operators are required to submit data on the volume of water withdrawn for each approval and each point of diversion on a quarterly basis. The Commission can suspend Section 8 approvals when water levels in rivers and streams become too low due to extended summer heat, low snowfall the previous winter or a combination of both; standard approval conditions address the prevention of water removal during low flow conditions.
The issuance of a Section 8 does not give the company permission to disturb or damage any soil, trees, stream bank or lakeshore, existing works or other property, construct works to transport water from the source location to a storage facility or the use site, construct any in-stream works, remove water from any beaver pond and/or damage or destroy a beaver, muskrat or other aquatic furbearer dam, house or den, upgrade or create access to facilitate water withdrawal or enter private land in order to gain access to a diversion point.
Maximum approved volumes of water are recorded on a site by site basis. Considerations when granting a permit may include:
- Any other operators using the same water source and/or diversion point.
- Habitat features such as beaver ponds and dams and known swan nesting sites.
- The length of time proposed for water use to a maximum of 12 months.
When companies estimate the daily volume of water needed for a project area, they consider the potential situations where additional water may be required. Routine day-to-day operations often require much less water. In cases where water flows could be impacted due to drought etc., industrial users are shut down first, as they are of lower priority than domestic uses and users.
For lakes, approval conditions ensure the water level of a lake does not fall more than 10 cm once water withdrawal has begun, to protect shoreline habitat. Water withdrawal is suspended once maximum drawdown levels have been reached.
In streams, the water intake must be at least 30 cm from the stream bottom and ensure the stream maintains a minimum flow of 55 litres per second (L/s). These conditions are designed to protect aquatic habitat and to ensure water cannot be withdrawn from streams without adequate flow or size.