The embarrassing record of Oil & Gas in BC

There is no one guarding BC’s oil and gas henhouse as the wolves havetheir way with the hens and eggs. That is the only conclusion to bereached by any one reviewing the sorry record of compliance revealed ina recent audit by the Oil and Gas Commission of exploration anddrilling activities in BC.

Of 3,305 field inspections last year nearly two-thirds found breaches of the regulations — a total of 5,734 infractions.

Thisis particularly disturbing when you consider that BC regulations onfossil fuel exploration and drilling are lax to begin with. BC oil andgas regulations resemble a voluntary self-management regime governed by”Codes of Practice” not enforceable regulations.

There arevirtually no effective laws for contaminated sites, discharge ofpolluted water, well spacing, abandoned wells, proximity to houses andschools, protections against pollutants, (neurotoxic sour gas amongthem), protection of wildlife, location of compressors, etc.

Andthe environmental impacts of oil and gas are real. In the Peace region,BC’s main fossil fuel producing region, the West Moberly and SaulteauFirst Nations conducted a Petroleum Contaminants Community ResearchProject to determine the impacts of oil and gas related activities ontheir territory. The findings were extremely disturbing:

  • Virtually every sump and flare pit studied was unfenced exposing wildlife to toxic water and soils;
  • 75% (12 out of 16) sites tested were contaminated;
  • Animals such as moose, deer, elk and bear ingest toxic chemicals out of sumps and flare pits;:
  • Even sites that are not contaminated still pose a potential risk towildlife through long term ingestion of low level compounds such assalts, metals and hydrocarbons.

These studies show BC’sregulatory framework on oil and gas is an embarrassment. Unfortunately,neither the NDP nor the Liberals made any commitments to fix theseproblems in the lead up to the election. Both seem happy to ride therevenue windfalls, generated by the virtually unregulated industry, tothe budgetary Promised Land.

Neither party even promised toenact something as motherhood as a Legacy or Heritage fund. Such a fundwould hold a portion of the revenues from this boom and bust industryto provide for a rainy day, or to clean up some of the mess created.

Evenour conservative neighbors Alaska and Alberta (not known for thereprogressive social or environmental policies) have had the forethoughtto set aside some of the money from the fossil fuel boom to support thesoon to arrive days when the bubble has burst and the peak ofproduction is past.

Many communities in the north are boomingnow, but the governments own projections indicate peak oil and gasproduction is at best just a few years away. 2008 perhaps–or if pricesgo higher and industry is given free reign to access sociallyconstrained or environmentally sensitive areas–perhaps 2011.

The flaw in this laissez faire approach to regulating fossil fuel companies is that as the Vancouver Sun recently reported businesshas only one overriding purpose: to deliver a return on investment toits owners. Despite all the recent blather about corporate citizenshipand good governance, everything is subservient to the pursuit of profitHowever, society has priorities other than making money, such as publichealth and safety and environmental integrity. Business must operate insuch a way that it does not compromise these goals. Legislators putrules and regulations in place to ensure that the common good is notsacrificed for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Unfortunately, both the NDP and the Liberals seem to have forgotten this when it comes to the oil and gas companies.

Nowthe election is over and hopefully the rhetoric has slackened, let’sfinally begin protecting the larger public interest. We look to allparties to address the inadequacies of our energy regulatory regime. Tocreate enforceable laws which don’t just rely on the good intentions ofthe corporate wolves. It’s about time.

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