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Petroleum and natural gas companies store fresh and waste (produced) water using different types of in-ground and above ground storage facilities/structures such as dugouts, water reservoirs, saline ponds, c-rings and tanks, in preparation for using the stored water in their activities.

Some of the fluid retaining structures storing freshwater behind an earthen embankment, qualify as dams under the Dam Safety Regulation (DSR) of the Water Sustainability Act (WSA), which took effect on Feb. 29, 2016.

Are all water storage structures considered dams? What is the difference between dugouts and dams?

Not all types of water retaining structures are considered dams. As per the Dam Safety Regulation (DSR), a dam is defined as 'a barrier constructed for the purpose of enabling the storage or diversion of water from a stream or an aquifer or both and must store water above the natural surface grade of the surrounding area, which is referred to as live storage'. Water storage structures that store water completely below the natural surface grade are referred to as dugouts. Currently the average live storage for petroleum and natural gas (PNG) sector's dams in B.C. is approximately 70,000 cubic metres. Depending upon the storage capacity of the reservoir and/or the height of the embankment (berm), some of these retaining structures are regulated dams, as per the DSR.

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An oil and gas sector dam located in the Dawson Creek area. The picture shows the dam at full capacity with the main berm and also the spillway in the upper right area of the picture.

Who permits petroleum and natural gas (PNG) sector dams?

The BC Energy Regulator (BCER) is responsible for the authorization of dams that support PNG activities in the province. The BCER has its own procedures, as well as follows the B.C. Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations procedures, to ensure these dams are properly licensed and operating safely. This starts the moment an application is submitted. The application is tagged and subjected to a rigorous review that includes:

  • First Nation consultations
  • Available water sources and issuance of water license
  • Detailed engineering design
  • Detailed construction and environmental impacts of the proposed construction
  • Environmental and safety considerations to establish consequence class of the dam
  • Operational, Maintenance and Surveillance (OMS) and Dam Emergency Plan (DEP)

Companies must meet all DSR requirements and any conditions imposed by the BCER before any authorization is granted to construct or use a dam structure.

How does the BCER ensure safety of the dams?

The BCER has several dam safety officers (DSOs) and engineers (designated under DSR/WSA) who protect public safety by ensuring the dams are adequately designed, built and operated under an effective OMS and DEP plan, and verifying and auditing the owners have been conducting the required safety activities, including annual inspection and surveillance of their dams. The DSOs also provide education and awareness training to the dam owners on their responsibilities, conducts visits to the dam sites regularly to identify any instances of non-compliance and issue orders as required to correct deficiencies.

How many PNG sector dams in B.C. are active and regulated and oversighted by the BCER?

Currently there are 49 active and regulated PNG sector dams in B.C. the BCER oversees. The Regulated Dams Map shows the location of these dams.

More information on dam safety can be obtained from the Provincial Dam Safety Program website:

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Oil and gas sector dam located in the Pink Mountain of Northeast B.C. The picture shows the reservoir almost completely empty with the two inlet channels(left side) and the main berm(right side).