Up Contamination Creek: Landslides and Heavy Metal Contamination in British Columbia

by AndrewEdmunds on October 30, 2015 - 4:56pm

The town of Hudson’s Hope, in northeastern British Columbia, has been experiencing continuous landslides and heavy metal contamination in Brenot Creek, their only source of drinking water, and residents believe nearby fracking operations are to blame (CBC News 2015). The creek has provided farmers and ranchers with drinking water for generations, as well as water for crops and cattle. Now no drinking water can be drawn from the creek, no fish can survive in it and children can no longer play in it. After the landslide began, the Ministry of the Environment tested waters of Brenot Creek and found dangerously high levels of lead, cadmium, barium, and arsenic, among other heavy metals. An advisory was issued in September 2014 by the District of Hudson's Hope and Northern Health, urging residents to use other water sources for drinking and irrigation. Due to the presence of five nearby fracking wells, residents of Hudson’s Hope immediately suspected this mining practice may be responsible for their contaminated water. However, a report prepared by the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) claimed that no evidence exists linking the fracking wells to the landslide and the heavy metal contamination (CBC News 2015).

The landslide and water contamination in Hudson’s Hope is an example of a wicked problem. Wicked problems are situations in which solutions are not correct or incorrect but rather better or worse. Wicked problems are socially and environmentally interconnected, and change constantly. Stakeholders with different worldviews and understandings are involved. Wicked problems cannot be solved, only mitigated. An example is climate change. In the case of Hudson’s Hope, the stakeholders involved all have different understandings of the problem. So far, no solution has been implemented and even mitigation has yet to occur. Although this environmental problem certainly isn’t on the same scale as climate change, it is a wicked problem nonetheless and will be very difficult to mitigate.

I found this situation perplexing. Having completed several projects about fracking, I am aware of the problems it poses to water and land resources. Fracking releases toxic chemicals into water, sometimes even making the water flammable. Fracking also disturbs the bedrock in such a way that land nearby the fracking operations is prone to collapse and earthquakes. Since the residents of Hudson’s Hope did not experience this landslide prior to the fracking operations, it seems as though fracking may be the cause of their environmental woes. However, this view contrasts sharply with the report by the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission, which claims that no evidence links the fracking wells to the landslide and heavy metal contamination. The situation is further complicated by the BCOGC’s incentive to protect the fracking operations. As a science student, I enjoy seeing concrete scientific confirmation or rejection of a hypothesis. In this case, the science, as well as the entire situation, is muddied with uncertainty. In my opinion, a third party with no affiliation to the residents of Hudson’s Hope or the BCOGC should conduct an independent analysis to determine the cause of the contamination and landslide (CBC News 2015). I hope that with the implementation of unbiased scientific analysis, the cause of the contamination can be determined and a solution to this wicked problem can be developed. 

Reference

[CBC News] Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News. 2015. Fracking, landslide blamed for contamination of Northern B.C. creek [Internet]. Hudson’s Hope (BC); [cited 2015 Oct 28]; [2 pages]. Available from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/landslide-fracking-hydro-....

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