In the time it took B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark to deliver her stock campaign speech on Thursday morning, 22,000 litres of sewage were brought to near-drinkable standards in the treatment plant that served as her backdrop.
Ms. Clark toured the $17-million reclaimed water plant to underscore her party's commitment to the natural gas industry in B.C.'s northeast. The treated water, clean enough to keep a tank of stickleback and goldfish alive in the plant's lobby, is used by Shell Canada in the hydraulic fracturing process – fracking – that gets gas out of the ground.
The central theme of the Liberal election campaign is that a change in government would strangle the trillion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry that the province hopes would be supplied from these gas fields.
"This is what an innovative, strong economy looks like," Ms. Clark said as the engines hummed behind her. "All of that is at risk should we elect an NDP government."
Ms. Clark told the plant workers the New Democratic Party would raise taxes on the industry and impose a moratorium on fracking, putting thousands of people out of work.
The Liberal government is negotiating a new tax on LNG. The NDP has promised a carbon tax on upstream emissions. Either way, the B.C. government would get its mitts on an additional revenue stream from the industry. But Blair Lekstrom, Liberal MLA for Peace River South, acknowledged the official NDP policy would not equal the risk that Ms. Clark has raised at every opportunity.
The NDP policy calls for a review of fracking that would begin in the fall. "I would support a review, the industry would support a review," Mr. Lekstrom said in an interview in Dawson Creek, where he was helping Ms. Clark drum up support for the new Liberal candidate, Mike Bernier.
Mr. Lekstrom has toured the region's natural gas facilities with the NDP's energy critic, John Horgan, and the two are not far apart on what needs to be done.
Mr. Lekstrom said the biggest problem facing the industry is public relations – there are concerns about potential health impacts and the strain on the region's water supply. "It's the unknown." A robust study of the risks would only serve to inform the public about why B.C.'s fracking is not scary, he said.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to release natural-gas deposits trapped in shale. It is a thirsty business, and the water reclamation process provides a tiny fraction of the industry's needs.
The NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fairview, George Heyman, spearheaded calls for a fracking moratorium when he was head of the Sierra Club of B.C. But Mr. Horgan said that is not party policy. He said the NDP would, if elected, appoint a science-based review panel on fracking. "That's not a roadblock," he said. "The industry recognizes they need a social licence."
He said the Liberals' still-undefined plan to tax LNG creates more uncertainty than his party's proposal to broaden the carbon tax to include venting from natural gas production. "We have consulted with industry. They are not happy about it. … But it's not going to be in our first-year budget." He said the NDP supports an LNG industry but the impact on the province's greenhouse gas emissions is best addressed through the carbon tax.