Many of them run on natural gas. But what many people don't know is that this "natural" gas is a health hazard — for families in BC who live beside the LNG-fracking industry that produces it, for people who burn it in their homes, and for the climate change that warms our planet.
As doctors and nurses who care for communities across western Canada, we say: it's time we talk about the health effects of natural gas.
Natural gas is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases mostly composed of methane. However, despite being branded as "natural", natural gas is a fossil fuel, like coal, oil and gasoline. It fills the air with greenhouse gases and pollutants when it burns.
Two of North America's largest natural gas reserves are located in British Columbia, deep underground.
To access gas deposits in BC, fossil fuel companies must use a polluting technique called hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," to crack the earth open.
Across northeastern BC, more than 20,000 fracking wells fracture the land, with more wells being built everyday.
Forests and farmland are being destroyed by fracking infrastructure. In fact, access roads, well pads, water hubs, pipelines, compressor stations, gas plants and waste disposal in BC cover five times as much land as Alberta tar sands mines.
The process of fracking is deeply polluting. It poisons the air, contaminates the water, and imperils the life of those living close by the well.
Findings from more than 1,700 studies, articles, and reports show that fracking activities are associated with a host of health problems including birth defects, cancer and asthma. It is no wonder that fracking is banned in several countries (including France, Germany, the UK) and provinces (including Quebec and New Brunswick).
A typical multi-well pad in Northeastern BC
"I have some patients whose symptoms I can't explain. There's one, an older farmer. His farm was surrounded by wells. Shortly after the flares went up he developed episodes where he would suddenly pass out ...,I can't make the industry go away, but they should have to comply with strong regulations."
Dr. Ulrike Meyer, Family Physician in Dawson Creek
"I worked at the Unist'ot'en Camp — along the path of the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline — for eight years. That place is a beacon of hope for people who are trying to stand up for the environment"
Head Chief Smolgelgem, Wet'suwet'en Nation
"We moved to Dawson Creek to be closer to nature and raise our children in a small town — we love the outdoors. But we went from a country lifestyle to all of a sudden semis blowing stop signs and big drill rigs almost running you over during school bus times. We had a little piece of Heaven, and now it's all gas and flare stack"
Karen Hosford, Environmental Scientists, BC
"There are five well sites within 1.5 km of our house. There's lots of flaring in the middle of the night that wakes you up, like a 747 taking off. When I hear ads saying, "Put in a fireplace and cook with natural gas," I don't think they're grasping the full reality of the impacts on the environment and us."
Brain Derfler, Third-generation Farmer
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year span—in other words, it has enormous short-term impacts on our climate.
While gas itself is less carbon-intensive than coal when burned, methane leaks at every stage of its use. If enough methane leaks during its production, its greenhouse gas advantages are wiped out. Recent studies have suggested that, yes, methane leakage is bad enough to make natural gas the greenhouse equivalent of coal.
In 2020-21, BC’s government spent $1.3 billion on fossil fuel subsidies — 8.3 percent more than the previous year. Rather than decrease over time, these subsidies are estimated to surpass $1.8 billion in 2023-24—more than triple what the previous government spent in 2016-17.
The largest single source of this increase is the Deep Well Royalty Program, a tax loophole for fracking operators, which is projected to cost taxpayers $421 million this year. The outstanding liability fracking companies have amassed through unused Deep Well Royalty Credits has grown to $3.1 billion.
If Canada succeeds in its efforts to maintain a safe and healthy climate, fracking and LNG will not be viable industries in 30 years.It is time to have an honest conversation as a province about what comes next. Across the region, there are companies and communities that are already well on their way to building an economy that will last. We need to have a conversation in BC—between stakeholders including government, Indigenous Nations, health organizations and industry—about how we all will thrive in a future without fracking or LNG.
As doctors and nurses working in British Columbia, we ask the following changes to be implemented in order to guarantee a healthy and sustainable future for our province
Due to its immense health harms for the people living nearby the wells and its impact on the planet, the provincial government needs to put a moratorium on fracking in BC.
Invest in retraining programs and mobilize workers to build affordable zero emissions buildings, and retrofit all existing buildings for zero emissions.
Support workers and Indigenous communities impacted by LNG production in a just transition. Provide financial support for retraining, and guarantee zero emissions jobs.
End all fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidies as defined by the World Trade Organization include: direct spending, tax breaks, transfer of risk, and public finance,
Implementing these changes in BC won't be easy. We are up against a number of fossil companies who spend millions each year lobbying our provincial and federal government. But together we can make a difference in fighting climate change and fracking. Sign up below to stay updated on our campaign and ways to help out.