Bill 36, the Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act, has ‘deregulated’ the oil and gas industry and weakened environmental protection measures that are currently in place for the oil and gas industry. For example:
- Government can now allow the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) to exempt a company from all or part of the Geophysical Regulations. The OGC, for example, can now release an oil and gas company from obligations to supply information on environmental impacts, or restore a campsite to its original condition.
- Government can now allow the Minister or the OGC to exempt a company from any rules it establishes for ‘oil sands’ and from other regulations.
- It is easier now for Government to allow companies to space wells closer together, which could result in 32 times as many wells in a given area and the considerably more ecological damage that more wells, roads, and other facilities will cause.
- The OGC can now issue ‘approval in principle’ for oil and gas activities in a specific area which could result in less scrutiny of environmental protection permits.
- There is now the potential for the OGC to make non-farm use and subdivision decisions on agricultural land reserve land which could result in at least an apparent conflict of interest for the Commission when trying to serve two mandates: sound development of the oil and gas sector and protection of agricultural land.
- For all OGC decisions, the ‘tie breaking vote’ has been given to the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines who has now been appointed Chair of the formerly ‘neutral’ OGC. This will mean that environmental permits once issued by the environmental ministry and then by a ‘neutral’ OGC will now be decided in some cases by a Deputy whose Ministry’s first objective is to increase oil and gas investment in BC.
These changes, combined with previously announced policies to double oil and gas production and significantly reduce staff, suggest a provincial strategy that has little regard for environmental protection.