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The B.C. government has launched a long-awaited scientific review of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, with the Energy Minister saying she wants “to get to the truth of the matter” of issues surrounding the controversial practice.

But the NDP’s partners in government, the BC Green Party, immediately denounced the effort as a waste of time and a substitute for “appropriate action” to deal with concerns that the practice may be linked to earthquakes in province.

In fracking, fluids are injected deep underground to shatter rock and release trapped oil and natural gas. While a boon for the energy sector, it has raised fears about groundwater contamination and increased seismic activity.

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Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announced Thursday that a three-member panel –professors of hydrogeology and geological engineering and a geological engineer – will conduct the review and provide their findings before the end of the year.

“I am not going to prejudge what the recommendations are. I just want the panel to do a really good job and I am confident that they will,” Ms. Mungall told reporters at the legislature.

The panel is to consider fracking as it relates to earthquakes and its impact on water quality and quantity, as well as fugitive methane emissions linked to the practice. It will consult academics, industry professionals, communities in northeastern B.C. where the practice has been under way and First Nations.

Ms. Mungall described the panel members as “independent” and “very neutral,” adding, “They are scientists, and their focus is making sure they get to the truth of the matter.”

The panel members are Diana Allen, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University; Erik Eberhardt, director of the geological engineering program at the University of British Columbia; and Amanda Bustin, a research associate at UBC and a professional consultant on various gas projects.

I am not going to prejudge what the recommendations are. I just want the panel to do a really good job and I am confident that they will

— B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall

Nalanie Morin, who has led and managed environmental reviews of resource projects on behalf of First Nations, will act as an adviser to the panel.

But MLA Sonia Furstenau, speaking for the BC Greens, criticized the project. “There is plenty of evidence to indicate that fracking is neither safe nor environmentally responsible. This panel is unnecessary; government staff could review the literature themselves and take appropriate action,” she said in a statement.

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Ms. Furstenau noted that Andrew Weaver, the leader of the BC Greens, called for a moratorium on horizontal fracking after scientific studies found a link between the practice and earthquakes in 2016.

The Wilderness Committee environment group also criticized the review, saying it falls short of the full public inquiry that environmental, Indigenous and public-health groups called for last fall. “These three scientists, while qualified in their fields, are unable to investigate the regulatory capture of the BC Oil and Gas Commission and the implications for Indigenous rights,” said Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner for the committee, in a statement.

Geoff Morrison of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said he saw this process coming.

“Obviously, it’s not a surprise to us,” he said in an interview. “We welcome the opportunity to do this. We believe this is a robustly regulated process in northeastern B.C.”

He said he expects the review will confirm that the process is safe and is glad the government is relying on academic experts.

“It’s useful to have people who are going to take a scientific approach to investigate a process that is technical.”

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The BC LNG Alliance said it supports a science-based review of fracking in B.C., noting the industry is committed to some of the world’s highest environmental standards.

“We are committed to ensuring B.C. continues to be a global role-model for responsible resource development and look forward to reviewing the panel’s findings and advice,” the organization said in a statement.

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