As with all Canadians living in our great country, Rick Griffiths is entitled to his opinion about oil and gas development. However it is not fair or appropriate for him to denigrate the 200 men and women working at the BC Oil and Gas Commission on behalf of the citizens of British Columbia in order to advance his viewpoint.
In addition, many of his statements do not stand up to the scrutiny our team puts on all oil and gas applications and activities. As a regulator in B.C., we encourage discussion on all topics related to our mandate. We make every effort to be proactive and transparent. I think it is important to address some of the misconceptions Mr. Griffiths is promoting.
1. British Columbia has a modern regulatory framework in place for natural gas development. It’s called the Oil and Gas Activities Act and was brought into force in 2010 after years of development at the very time industry was shifting to unconventional development.
This included anticipating the regulatory needs for an increase in hydraulic fracturing. There are numerous regulations under that legislation to ensure the resources are developed safely.
2. The commission has mapped all of the watersheds in northeast B.C., has extensive stream flow data and knows how much water is available before granting any short-term water permit or a longer term licence. All water allocation decisions ensure the protection of environmental flows for fish, future supplies for communities and can be rescinded in times of drought.
3. There is no surface discharge of produced water allowed in British Columbia. It must either be recycled for use by the company or disposed of in a commission-regulated disposal well, which is naturally sealed.
4. The commission’s first priority is public safety and takes extensive efforts in that regard, from initial engineering reviews of facility and pipeline designs, to on-the-ground inspections. Health authorities in British Columbia have a mandate for public health and the commission has contributed its expertise to the provincial government’s human health study currently underway.
5. The commission maintains a 24/7 emergency response system and any reports of a leaking well are dealt with immediately. This includes sending an inspector to the site and requiring companies to take the necessary actions to fix any problem.
In addition, the commission has state-of-the-art infrared cameras and a mobile air monitoring laboratory to detect any potential leaks and ensure there is no threat to the environment. This is in addition to all of the pre-application engineering work as mentioned in the point above.
6. The commission carries out more than 4,000 inspections annually and publishes a quarterly compliance and enforcement summary detailing the name of the company and any potential violation, plus the status of mitigation measures.
7. B.C. has strong regulations that limit methane emissions from natural gas exploration. Provincial regulations require natural gas to be conserved where possible instead of flared and vented, which limits the amount of methane emitted. Operators in B.C. are also required to have a fugitive emissions management plan. Monitoring and controlling leakage is part of fugitive emissions management.
Contrary to the assertion in the commentary, I did mention the legal action underway during questioning before the Yukon legislature. It’s a judicial review of our short-term water permits, but the commission always considers any permit as “new” before issuing.
This ensures environmental flows and community values are protected and we require mandatory public reporting of that water use. The commission is looking forward to having these matters decided by the court.
We also recently took on responsibility for issuing longer-term water licences, and this brings notable improvements, including mandatory reporting and public disclosure of all water use.
And again, contrary to the characterization of “supposed to consult” – the BC Oil and Gas Commission has a legal duty on behalf of the Crown to consult with First Nations, something we take very seriously and something we do on every application that may affect First Nation rights.
Far from any conflict in roles arising as a result of our single-window model, it is actually an efficient and effective model for regulatory delivery. It’s no coincidence that other regulators, national and international governments have come to us seeking information on how we regulate.
Our mandate is clearly laid out in legislation and we have a very effective compliance and enforcement team, an emergency management program and community relations group that works with local landowners.
The agreement we have in place with the Yukon government provides for information sharing. The commission is happy to share all that we have learned on the worldwide trend of developing shale resources for the benefit of their citizens.
With our experience regulating oil and gas, and expert hydrologists, engineers, resource officers, environmental technicians, inspectors and safety officers, the BC Oil and Gas Commission is continually improving and adapting to meet the needs of this rapidly changing sector, but it consistently ensures the industry is effectively regulated on behalf of all British Columbians.
Paul Jeakins is commissioner of the BC Oil and Gas Commission.