In response to the increased water use in recovering shale gas deposits in the Montney Formation and Horn River Basin in northeast B.C., the province plans to amend its Water Act to provide for the licensing of groundwater, among other changes.

The responsibility for licensing water is now divided between the B.C. provincial government and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (“OGC”). Under the Water Act, the OGC may issue short-term water use approvals, while long-term water licenses are dealt with by the provincial government. 

The OGC currently issues between 250 to 300 short-term, water use approvals per year. The application process for a short-term water use approval is about a month. In comparison, there are only about 10 long-term water licenses issued to the oil and gas industry, and the application process takes about a year to complete.

B.C. is the only province in Canada that still does not license groundwater. With the advent of horizontal well hydrofracking operations and its increased draw on water resources, amendments to the Water Act are a welcome response to the needs of a burgeoning sector.