In question period I asked Hon. Michelle Mungall, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, about the Oil and Gas Commission and dozens of unregulated, unapproved dams for use in fracking operations in Northern British Columbia.
A. Olsen: There is an inherent conflict when a regulatory agency is tasked with not only monitoring but also promoting a sector. Yet this is the case with the Oil and Gas Commission.
To the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources: in the minister’s opinion, does the Oil and Gas Commission adequately monitor fracking activities in B.C., ensuring they’re in compliance with B.C. laws, regulations and guidelines for public and environmental health and safety?
Hon. M. Mungall: The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission is an independent regulatory agency that is responsible for oversight of oil and gas activities in British Columbia — most notably in the northeast of B.C., where I visited not too long ago.
In terms of the member’s question, suggesting that the oil and gas commission does promotional work for the industry, it actually doesn’t. I would draw his attention to section 4 of the act governing the Oil and Gas Commission, which lists all of the purposes for this independent regulatory body. Promotion is not in there whatsoever. In fact, it’s not anywhere in the act at all.
This body provides a regulatory function. That is what’s clear in the act. It ensures that industry is complying with provincial legislation and regulation and ensuring that the public interest is protected. There’s no doubt about it. Any regulatory body of government has to keep that first and foremost, and the Oil and Gas Commission is tasked with that.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for that clarification. It’s come to my attention, and it’s come to the attention of British Columbians now, through a number of articles that have been written, that in a hyperbolic attempt to get LNG at any cost — unicorns, rainbows, golden toilet seats for everyone — there were a number of illegal dams built in this province.
These unauthorized dams violate several provincial regulations, including companies applying for water licences after the dams have already been built, failing to submit engineering plans for structures that store huge amounts of water, failing to ensure proper safety measures are in place or seismic evaluations are completed, and failing to adequately consult First Nations.
I’ve seen reports linking fracking to groundwater contamination and numerous reports of old wells continuing to leak methane.
A. Olsen: There we go.
This is a pattern of a regulatory body failing to enforce regulations that are vital to the health and well-being of the citizens of British Columbia. I can understand what the grumbling is about, because this is the legacy of the former government. Because it appears to British Columbians that in fact there is…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
A. Olsen: …some promotional role that’s going on.
Will the minister commit today to look into these issues that I have raised and that have been raised in the media?
Hon. M. Mungall: Well, I’m sure the member can appreciate our shock when we learned about these unregulated dams. In fact, there are 51 sites that would actually qualify as a regulated dam but were not properly inspected or regulated under the previous government. We take that very seriously, and actually, we’ve already taken quite a bit of action. I wrote to the member down the way about that.
Just to be clear, the environmental assessment office, as well as the Oil and Gas Commission, have conducted site visits and inspections to ensure that projects did not pose a threat to the environment, that while they are unregulated, while we need to bring them into regulation, there was no spill or leakage.
The OGC has issued seven compliance orders to draw down storage water levels by 50 percent in two cases and to completely drain dams in two of those cases. Staff continue to monitor the situation very, very closely. As I said, we take this situation very seriously, and we are taking action.