Visiting MLAs find gaps in oil and gas regulations

The two have been vocal about a number of issues regarding the oil and gas industry, and Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm invited them to come see the area themselves. "If you're going to be talking about stuff and what drives our economy and what drives the economy of the province, then I want you to come and be able to talk on some sort of factual basis," said Pimm.

The two spent a whole day with the Oil and Gas Commission, met with Fort St. John City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and B.C. Hydro, and visited the Site C location and the Silverberry Landfill. At the conclusion of the week, both say they've found "significant gaps" between what is being regulated and what should be regulated through a change in public policy. "Bob Simpson and I have for some time now been extremely concerned about the gap between the public policy surrounding the oil and gas industry, and what you see on ground and regulated by the Oil and Gas Commission," says Huntington.

They're leaving with a least four issues they want to take a closer look at. To start, they believe there is a gap in planning, as the approval process is project-to-project. "We need a planning process," says Simpson, "that allows communities and landowners to be involved in what the broader land-based map is for pipelines, roads, well pads etc. that's missing in the system."

They also see a need for cumulative impacts of the industry to be monitored. Premier Christy Clark defends the process of fracking, saying B.C.'s industry is the safest in the world, as it doesn't have problems like those show in the popular documentary GasLand, but Simpson says that avoids the actual debate that needs to happen in the problem. He argues that the issue surrounds the cumulative drawdown of freshwater systems to enable the growth of the industry, not direct pollution as it is in other regions. "I think it's disingenuous of the environmental community that shows GasLand to raise money, just as it is disingenuous on the part of CAP and the OGC and the Premier to suggest that's the debate we should be having."

Simpson and Huntington also see a problem in compliance and enforcement. They question whether those responsibilities should reside within the Oil and Gas Committee, and argue that good companies should set the benchmark for legislation. "Right now the good companies are well above where the regulations are, which tells us the regulations are too low," says Simpson.

Lastly, they're worried that Alberta is gaining more from B.C.'s shale resource than British Columbians are, with trucks and insurance being bought in and contractors and consultants being hired from Alberta. Huntington wants a basic cost/benefit analysis of the industry conducted, given the amount of public money given to assist the industry. "It is really evident, especially with the price of oil right now and the royalty structure that the government is enjoying, that the benefits may not be what they're touted to be," she argues.

The Alberta issue is nothing new to Pimm, but he argues that with the region's low unemployment rate, most residents that want to be working in Fort St. John are working. "At the end of the day, we're going to need people from all over. We're going to need more and more people to come to this area as industry ramps up," he argues.

Pimm also argues against the MLAs' determination that there needs to be more planning, and says the Ministry of Energy in Victoria makes sure there is development happening that is both sustainable to the environment and the future of the province. He also points out regulations that control how many well pads can be located on a certain amount of land.

Pimm maintains that the Oil and Gas Commission is the best regulator in the world, and is being consulted by industry internationally. "I'm very happy and very proud of our OGC and I'll stand behind them all the time, so when I hear people say that we don't have regulation, we don't have policies in place, I disagree with them."

He does admit that there's always room for improvement, and that's what Simpson and Huntington say they're looking to do. They'll now take their findings back to their home ridings and try to come up with some recommendations to bring to legislature.

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