Numerous environmental offences have happened because British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission has failed to be tough on the fossil fuel companies it regulates, says a new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report that calls for substantial reforms based on the agency’s track record over the past two decades.
The report released today documents offences including the construction of numerous unlicensed dams and repeated violations of rules to protect endangered species and shows how the Commission has consistently failed to penalize companies to the extent it can when serious violations come to light.
“The Oil and Gas Commission is a captured regulator, meaning it serves the interests of its industry clients and governments that promote fossil fuel developments ahead of the interests of the public,” says Ben Parfitt, the report author and CCPA resource policy analyst.
“The Commission cannot continue to be both responsible for reviewing and approving industry development applications and policing the industry. Clearly, the time has come to separate those responsibilities and to put someone else in charge of enforcing the rules,” Parfitt says.
The report, Captured: British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission and the case for reform, shows how the provincial government bowed to a key demand of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) when it set up the new Commission in 1998.
The key demand was for a “single-window” agency that would “streamline” the review and approval of industry development applications. CAPP warned the government that failing to make that change would result in the industry pulling investments out of the province.
“The Commission was created and the previous practice of multiple ministries reviewing applications was ended. Almost immediately there was a surge in development approvals,” Parfitt says. “Unfortunately, what also happened was an increase in environmental infractions.”
The report concludes that the need to reform the Commission is pressing because today’s industry practices bear no resemblance to practices in place 21 years ago. At the time the Commission was formed, natural gas wells were not drilled to the depths they are today and horizontal wells were not the feature that they are today. The immense volumes of water that are pumped in today’s fracking operations were also unheard of.
“We are seeing troubling increases in earthquakes as a result of today’s fracking operations and a wholesale industry rush to find enough water to complete those operations. That alone is reason to review how the Commission regulates the industry, let alone what lies ahead should a liquefied natural gas industry materialize and the need to drill and frack more gas wells skyrockets,” Parfitt says.
The report’s key recommendations include:
- Create a new, arm’s-length agency to oversee compliance and enforcement efforts.
- Restructure the Commission board and remove its powers to change regulations.
- Reinstate a single water authority to regulate all water users in BC. (Currently only the oil and gas industry can apply for water rights from its own dedicated regulator).
- Compel the Commission to release all information that is in the public interest.