Northwest consumers deserve easier access to transparency on gas prices

(File photo)

It shouldn’t require a background in investigative journalism or familiarity with freedom of information (FOI) requests to learn how gas is priced in B.C.

Unfortunately, right now that seems to be the situation we are in.

Here at the paper one of the most common story ideas we get are messages from people upset with discrepancies in gas prices. Usually pointing to Costco in Prince George (where, for example, on the afternoon of June 22 regular gas sat at 101.9) they ask us how come in Smithers and Houston, where at that same time regular was at 119.9, is set so higher than their eastern neighbours some 300 kilometers away.

After spending a significant portion of the last week and calling over half a dozen different media lines to this specific point I can tell you with certainty: I don’t know. But I’m going to try to find out.

That’s because the system has been set up in a way that is intentionally confusing and tough for all, but the most FOI-savvy individuals.

When I wanted to find the answer to how gas was priced I first messaged the media line for Canadian energy giant Suncor, which owns Petro-Canada.

They told me that while they do own the company that because the Houston PetroCan is independently-owned (versus corporate) they cannot speak to the individual pricing of this site and are not the final arbiters of these matters.

Fair enough.

I was, however, able to learn that the company responsible for delivering gas to the retailer is Scamp Transport Ltd., which provides petroleum transportation services to both Alberta and British Columbia.

They are owned by Parkland Fuel Corporation, a Canadian independent fuel retailing company based in Calgary, Alberta, where a media spokesperson told me that they have no involvement with the site and that — wait for it — I’d need to reach out to Petro Canada for information.

And with that I had come full circle.

Like I said, it shouldn’t require hours of phone calls and work on behalf of the consumer to get a simple answer to a few simple questions: who sets the prices for fuel around here, how are they set and why is there such a discrepancy between both them and Prince George, as well as other stations within the Northwest (some of which are even higher at times than in Houston, showing how this is not simply a local issue).

Either way, I was feeling a little bitter and overall at a loss, having started and finished at the energy giant’s media line with hours or research but nothing to show for it.

Not at the employees I spoke to throughout the day (they were just doing their jobs and, all things considered, were actually quite helpful), but at how hard it was to navigate a system that, at this point, I’m convinced has been intentionally made confusing and convoluted to confuse and dissuade consumers angry with gas prices and looking for answers to give up.

Because at a certain point, after waiting on hold enough times for enough numbers (which you had to research yourself because they are intentionally hard to find) most people just give up.

Unfortunately for whoever is in charge of pricing gas across the Northwest, I am not most people.

Likewise, the harder it is for me to find out how gas is priced in the Northwest, the more the little voice in the back of my head, which guides my editorial intuition, tells me to look into this more in-depth.
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