The BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) is a regulatory agency that oversees the oil and gas industry in the province of British Columbia. It is a Crown corporation whose purview includes upstream exploration, downstream development, pipeline transportation and environmental reclamation.
Supported financially by the very industries it is tasked with regulating, the OGC’s funding model leads many to believe that the agency is in an inherent conflict of interest. The OGC’s continued efforts to shorten wait times for industry development applications, while failing to deal with serious environmental problems associated with industry activities, puts it on our Top 50 list as an industry enabler.
Locations: main offices in Victoria and Fort St. John; others in Kelowna, Terrace, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson and Prince George
The OGC was formed in 1998. It is funded through the collection of industrial fees.
Unlike other provincial Crown corporations, which are funded by the government, the OGC is funded entirely by fees and levies collected from the industry it oversees.1 This funding arrangement effectively removes the OGC from the kind of public scrutiny that would apply to other agencies and provincial ministries. The relationship between industry and the OGC is complicated by the fact that the OGC operates as a “single window” regulator, meaning it is responsible for administering access to natural resources by fossil fuel corporations and ensuring that this access is in the public interest on environmental and social grounds—a complex arrangement susceptible to what is commonly known as “regulatory capture.” (Regulatory capture occurs when a government body is directed or unduly influenced by the private industry subject to regulation..)
The OGC enables increased fossil fuel extraction by streamlining the processes that companies must follow in order to develop natural gas and other hydrocarbon resources—with the aim of reducing wait times and facilitating increased production. This dynamic was intensified in 2010 when the Oil and Gas Commission Act was replaced by the Oil and Gas Activities Act, a change that further reduced the time required for companies to obtain approvals. The OGC was ultimately granted powers to issue a wider array of permits and licences under various other provincial acts, including the Water Act and subsequently the Water Sustainability Act.2 Natural gas extraction in BC is extremely water intensive due to hydrauling fracturing (fracking), a process in which massive amounts of water, chemicals and sand are forced deep into shale rock formations, creating fractures in the rock that release the gas.
The OGC also publishes technical reports relevant to oil and gas development in BC. These include publications like the Oil and Gas Reserves and Production Report and the Quarterly Oil and Gas Water Management Summary. The former summarizes production levels and known reserves. The latter documents how water resources are licensed and utilized by the oil and gas sector in BC.3 These publications serve to legitimate oil and gas development in BC by providing justification for its expansion, and the increasing water withdrawals that follow.
Fracking is the largest emerging fossil fuel industry in BC, and because the process is very water intensive, allocating water access to industry is an important—and controversial—aspect of the OGC’s work. The OGC issues both short-term water permits and long-term water licences to the fossil fuel industry. While technically the short-term permits last for only 24 months, they are routinely renewed.4 Some critics have argued that these short-term withdrawals allow fossil fuel companies to exploit water resources with minimal oversight and limited transparency.5
In 2013 a coalition of environmental groups filed a court action challenging the OGC’s ongoing practice of issuing short-term water permits. The judge adjudicating the case denied the groups’ petition to declare the approvals a violation of the BC Water Act but did confirm that the issue was a “growing public concern.”8The four-year delay in releasing the findings raised serious concerns about the OGC’s failure to fulfill its mandate to protect public safety and the environment. A coalition of community, First Nation and environmental organizations is now calling for a public inquiry into the safety of fracking in BC.9
Lobbying and influence
The OGC is one of the most heavily lobbied government agencies by the fossil fuel sector. Between 2010 and 2016, it was lobbied 984 times by the top 10 most active fossil fuel firms and organizations, including Teck, Enbridge, TransCanada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.10 Revolving doors between the OGC and the fossil fuel sector further entrench conflict of interest issues; for example, Alex Ferguson, former commissioner and CEO of the OGC, now lobbies the organization on behalf of CAPP.11 Ferguson is just one of many current and former senior OGC officials who have come from or gone on to work for the fossil fuel industry in BC.
Learn more about the BC Oil and Gas Commission at LittleSis.org
The intent of the Corporate Mapping Project database is to engage Canadians in a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel sector in our democracy, by “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Late in 2017 the BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives uncovered the OGC’s suppression of a report showing that upwards of 900 gas wells in the province might be leaking methane and contaminating groundwater sources.7Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), “Suppressed Report Shows Hundreds of BC’s Fracked Gas Wells May Leak Methane, Underscores Need for Public Inquiry” (news release), December 14, 2017, https://www.policyalternatives.ca/newsroom/news-releases/suppressed-report-shows-hundreds-bc%E2%80%99s-fracked-gas-wells-may-leak-methane.