Water Use for Natural Gas Development
All water in British Columbia is owned by the Crown on behalf of residents of the province. If you own land that contains or has access to surface water or groundwater, in most cases you are expected to apply to the province for the right to use the water and pay an annual rental fee for that use.
Companies accessing water for the development of natural gas resources must also apply for the right to use surface or groundwater. A company can obtain permits to use surface water from lakes, streams, dugouts and water wells for oil and gas activities through either a short-term water use approval, issued for no more than 24 months, or a longer-term water licence, issued for activities that take more than 24 months to complete.
The drilling and completion of wells, road maintenance, winter access roads or pipelines are examples of activities that require a longer-term water licence and infrastructure. Some licences may be issued up to 20 years or more.
The authority to issue permits for water use related to oil and gas activities has been assigned to the BC Oil and Gas Commission (Commission) through the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and the Oil and Gas Activity Act. The Commission works together with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNR) to manage the water resources used for the development of oil and gas resources.
Water Use for Private Landowners
Groundwater that is used for domestic purposes does not require authorization. Groundwater is water naturally occurring below the surface of the ground. If you use water from a well, then you are a groundwater user.
Domestic purposes include water used for: drinking, food preparation and sanitation; fire prevention; providing water to animals or poultry kept for household use or as pets; and for irrigating gardens no larger than 1,000 m2. A full definition can be found on this Front CounterBC site.
If you use groundwater for any non-domestic purpose, the provincial government now requires you to hold a water licence under the WSA. This requirement came into place February 29, 2016 and applies to new groundwater users as well as those who began using groundwater before February 29, 2016.
Licensing groundwater use is not the same as registering the well. If a landowner has registered a well, they are still expected to licence their groundwater for non-domestic use under the WSA.
A How to Apply video is available to step you through the online application process for new and existing water licence applications, or you can follow the steps in this guide.
For more information or guidance in this process, residents of the B.C. Peace Region can contact the Front Counter BC office in Fort St John at 250-787-3415. Residents outside of the B.C. Peace Region can check the Front Counter BC Locations map to find contact information for the office in their region.