VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government is considering establishing an industry-backed fund to cover the clean-up costs of environmental spills on land, Environment Minister Terry Lake said Tuesday after meeting with transport industries.
Two separate oil pipeline projects through the province and plans for natural gas expansion have put British Columbia's environment laws under scrutiny.
The minister met with representatives from 13 different organizations to discuss spill response plans, including the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the Railway Association of Canada.
"We do think there should be a fund available that can be used to make sure the environment is remediated to the fullest extent possible and that the taxpayers aren't left to pay for that," Lake told reporters.
Lake said B.C. is looking at different models for the clean-up fund in various jurisdictions, such as the federal fund used to clean up marine spills.
The Environment Ministry released a "policy intentions paper" in November and laid out guiding principles for reform.
Among them, the government is looking for a polluter-pay system — and there are gaps to be filled, Lake said.
The existing provincial environmental emergency program receives about 3,500 notices of environmental emergencies each year, ranging from home-based oil accidents to overturned tanker trucks, train derailments and spills on water.
"We think the regime we have in place at the moment is good, but we do see all of this economic activity coming and so we need to be proactive and get out in front of that with a plan that recognizes we'll be seeing more activity happen as we move products through British Columbia," he said.
"We want to make sure that the plans we have in place are on par with anything around the world."
Federally, the shipping industry is mandated to fund the Western Canada Marine Response Corp., which responds to about 20 marine spills a year at a cost of about $5.3 million.
Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said B.C. has a world-class regime in place already "but there's always room for improvement."
Kenny, whose industry is feeling the heat of ongoing protests against the proposed Northern Gateway and TransMountain oil pipeline projects, said it's important that members of the public understand the emergency plans in place.
She said it shouldn't be up to taxpayers to cover the cost if there is an event.
"We're certainly supportive of that."
The meeting involved Transport Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard, as well as the B.C. Trucking Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Lake said they will now form a working group ahead of a two-day symposium planned in Vancouver in March. Within "a year or so" Lake believes government will move ahead with legislation.
The minister said he welcomes input from environmental groups and the public, but he has no plans to meet specifically with other groups prior to the meetings in March.
The B.C. government has set out five conditions that the Northern Gateway would have to meet in order to meet provincial approval, including a "world-class" spill response plan.
Nikki Skuce, of the environmental group ForestEthics, said The discussion needs to go beyond who pays.
"While I appreciate that the government is meeting with industry leaders, such as CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, for policy input, their definition of `world class' spill response standards will differ dramatically from those of First Nations, fisheries operators, and other potentially impacted communities who have not been invited to meet with the ministry," Skuce said.
Also on HuffPost:
10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP
The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>
9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980
Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed
Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.
Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves
Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>
5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.
One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry
Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>
3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands
Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat
Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>
1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?
The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.