Understanding health equity and resource development (UnHEARD): New tools for assessing the health equity implications of unconventional natural gas development on rural and remote communities in northern British Columbia

Resource extraction and development activities are the primary drivers of social and economic development for communities across northern Canada, and therefore are significant determinants of community well-being. However, there is growing global recognition that the benefits of resource development are not distributed evenly across the supply chain, and that new tools are required to understand how anthropogenic changes in the natural environment affect population health.

This study uses the case of unconventional natural gas development in northern BC’s rural and remote communities to enhance the scientific understanding between resource development pathways and human health. BC is currently preparing for the rapid development of its natural gas reserves in conjunction with other diverse forms of land use and development (e.g. forestry, mining, industrial agriculture, etc.). However, the health impacts of rapid industrial growth are not well understood, and differences will be abound between gas extracting regions in the northeast of the province, gas transportation corridors through the northern interior, and gas exporting communities on the northwest coast.

In seeking to contextualize health impacts associated with resource development across the supply chain, this research will work to develop a new health equity impact assessment tool that is rooted in international best practices to explicate the intersections between ecosystems, the boom and bust cycle of resource-dependent towns and regions, and the resulting impacts on human health which are often overlooked in existing provincial environmental assessment and cumulative effects assessment protocols. Indeed, an explicit focus on health equity is a purposeful way to understand how health impacts are distributed across time and geographic space related to rapid resource development, thereby giving voice to health issues that often go UnHEARD during project permitting and planning. This work will involve the integration of a variety of data types to track changes in the distribution of health outcomes over time, and enable the identification of programs and protocols capable of mitigating associated health risks. Accordingly, this research will inform provincial regulatory processes through an expanded understanding of environmental disturbance as a context for health promotion, while assisting regional stakeholders in minimizing harmful impacts of industrial activities on community and worker health.