As the Coastal GasLink Pipeline construction continues across Northern British Columbia reports of the operators flouting environmental and cultural regulations continue to be made public.
As the infractions pile up and the penalties amount to less than a rounding error, Coastal GasLink has just turned the B.C. government fines into a cost of doing business.
I asked the new Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation, Hon. Josie Osborne what she thinks about the regulation and enforcement environment. She did not answer, instead the Minister of the Environment, Hon. George Heyman stood.
The BC NDP government said in the Speech from the Throne that they reward those who play by the rules, however, when it come to the oil and gas industry they are setting a dangerous precedent by rewarding those who break the rules also.
To the Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. The minister’s first few weeks on the job — how would the minister characterize the regulation and enforcement of environmental infractions of energy projects in British Columbia?
Hon. G. Heyman:
The member has asked a very general question, so it’s hard to know exactly where the member wants to focus the answer. But what I would say is that there are a number of agencies who have distinct and outlined responsibilities for enforcement of regulations, conditions on permits. There are administrative procedures and administrative fairness in each regime. There’s an escalating pattern of warnings of penalties, of orders, perceived penalties, and they are applied in an escalating manner.
Mr. Speaker: Member, supplemental.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The construction of the CGL pipeline continues to cause damage to sensitive habitat and cultural sites in northern British Columbia. Last month, a dam at the Clore River ruptured, damaging critical salmon and steelhead habitat. That’s part of the reason why I asked the question to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. It’s my understanding that it’s actually the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission that is responsible for the regulation of water crossings. The Tyee reported: “The Oil and Gas Commission initially cleared the pipeline builder of any wrongdoing but added that it had not inspected the site in person.”
The breach of the Clore River is not an isolated incident. Today, the CGL pipeline has been fined three times. It’s had 37 warnings. It’s had 17 orders for non-compliance related to erosion and sediment control. There doesn’t appear to be any amount of damage that can happen and this government will hold the company accountable. This NDP government is appearing more and more to be captured by industry. In fact, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the federal body, is not enforcing there because they basically are saying that they’re relying on the province.
So, effectively, neither senior government is holding this company accountable. It’s a $14.5 billion pipeline, and this government has fined them a total –– a grand, grand total –– of $456,200 today. That’s less than a rounding error, way less than a rounding error.
This government is failing to properly penalize CGL, and it’s a terrible message to send, especially considering that there are several other pipelines and gas liquefaction plants poised to go ahead under a Premier who promised no new fossil fuel infrastructure. This government says it rewards those who play by the rules. However, it is clear they also really for those who break the rules.
To the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation: will the minister act to ensure that Coastal GasLink does not further damage critical salmon and steelhead habitat? And how much more damage do they have to inflict before this government finally issues a stop work order?
Hon. G. Heyman:
I reject the premise of the member’s question. It’s simply inaccurate. We take enforcement of regulations and permits and conditions seriously. The environmental assessment office, along with, in some cases, inspectors from the Oil and Gas Commission and in some cases, inspectors from other divisions in the Ministry of Environment, regularly inspect behaviour on the CGL pipeline as well as many other projects. There have been numerous inspections by EAO officers of CGL. There have been orders, there have been meetings, there has been an escalating series of penalties. There is consideration being given every time an infraction is found.
We entered into a compliance agreement with CGL to raise the level of attention and focus on continued breaches of their permits. There was, in fact, a stop work at one point until corrections were made. It is not true that Oil and Gas Commission inspectors did not attend the Clore River. They did in fact attend. So did DFO. I have asked to be regularly briefed on findings of all of the agencies that inspect. The EAO officers are in regular contact with the Oil and Gas Commission inspectors, who do have the responsibility for inspecting the erosion, and we are all waiting for the analysis by DFO of their findings from their inspection of the Clore River.