Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman has defended a new regulation which prohibits the conversion of LNG pipelines for transporting oil amid claims it could be easily reversed unless it is legislated.
The B.C. government today enforced a new regulation forbidding companies from converting natural gas infrastructure to transport oil or diluted bitumen.
The new measure, established under the Oil and Gas Activities Act, prohibits the BC Oil and Gas Commission from approving LNG pipeline conversions.
Six proposed pipelines will be subject to the regulation, including Spectra’s Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project and TransCanada’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission and Coastal GasLink pipelines.
It will also apply to the Pacific Trail Pipelines, Pacific Northern Gas Looping and Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas projects.
The regulation comes in response to First Nations concerns that permitting LNG development could open the doors for companies to use pipelines to transport oil without needing further permissions.
Coleman said today it prevented industry from simply adjusting permits to move to oil, ensuring economic growth was developed responsibly.
“Any conversion of a pipeline without an OGC permit would be a violation of the Oil and Gas Activities Act, and enforcement actions would follow,” he said.
The announcement came with the endorsement of Moricetown Band chief Barry Nikal, who said it helped allay the community’s environmental concerns.
“This regulation provides our community with peace of mind so that we can focus on discussing the benefits that natural gas will bring without worry that oil will flow through the pipelines,” he said.
But Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, who introduced a private member’s bill restricting LNG pipeline conversions in the legislature last November, said the regulation was too easy to reverse.
He said Minister Coleman specifically said restrictions on pipeline conversions would be introduced as legislation at a public forum in Moricetown last April.
“In April of 2014 I witnessed Minister Coleman at a public forum in Moricetown saying that they would deal with this topic through legislation,” Donaldson said.
“Lo and behold, instead of legislation, when it came down to it they introduced a regulation to prohibit the transmission of diluted bitumen in natural gas pipelines.
“The reason that’s not good enough is that regulation can be created or destroyed behind closed doors at the whim of the cabinet and at the signature of a cabinet minister.”
Donaldson said the government last year used the regulation process to make some natural gas projects exempt from environmental assessment, a move that Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief John Ridsdale (Na’moks) has said damaged trust with First Nations.
The MLA plans to reintroduce the legislation as a private member’s bill when the legislature meets in February.
“I think that’s the type of certainty people are looking for and it’s certainly the certainty the Wet’suwet’en are looking for,” he said.
“I just don’t understand why Minister Coleman and the B.C. Liberals are so fearful of introducing legislation.”
Ridsdale, who could not be reached for comment today, has been outspoken about his belief the prohibition should be legislated.
“We accept legislation, but we don’t accept regulation because it is too easy to change,” he told The Interior News in November last year.
But Coleman said regulations required the same government review and approval as legislative amendments.
“Although the process of developing or amending statutes is more time intensive, both types of legislative change require full government approval to implement,” he said.
He said regulations created legal certainty for First Nations and industry, and that they could be enacted quickly to make new pipelines subject to the prohibition.
“If there are new, additional pipelines proposed for LNG projects, they can be added to the regulation,” he said.
“A statute would take a longer time to introduce and debate, and it would be difficult to add pipelines over time as they are proposed for development.”