Public will have a say in regulator inquiry into B.C.’s record-high gas prices

Click to play video: 'A brief history of gas prices in B.C.' A brief history of gas prices in B.C.
WATCH: With the constant rise of gas prices in B.C. and little hope of relief on the horizon, here is a brief look back to the gas wars of the 1980's and our journey to where we are now – May 14, 2019

British Columbians impacted by the record-high price at the pumps will now get to ensure lawmakers and oil companies hear their concerns.

The B.C Utilities Commission (BCUC) inquiry into the province’s volatile fuel prices will allow members of the public to submit letters of comment that will become a part of the public record of the probe.

The letters can be submitted online until Aug. 8, and can include “views, opinions, and thoughts regarding impact or potential impact” of the price of gasoline or diesel in B.C.

WATCH: (Aired May 21) New details on investigation into gas prices

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New details on investigation into gas prices – May 21, 2019

Those prices have soared past North American records this spring, reaching well past $1.70 in parts of Metro Vancouver.

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The issue has prompted a debate within government and among analysts on whether a lack of competition is allowing oil companies to “gouge” consumers, or whether a lack of supply and overwhelming demand is the cause of high prices and wild fluctuations.

READ MORE: Regulator given 3 months to probe causes of B.C.’s sky-high gas prices

Premier John Horgan sent a letter to the BCUC on May 7 asking it to put forward a “common set of facts” for why prices have ballooned in the province.

The independent regulator has been given until Aug. 30 to submit a final report on the findings of their probe.

Under the terms of reference released Tuesday, the BCUC will now have the power to compel oil companies to explain prices.

WATCH: (Aired May 7) B.C. premier calls for gas prices investigation

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B.C. premier calls for gas prices investigation – May 7, 2019

Those explanations will be delivered both as answers to a questionnaire and during a four-day hearing starting July 17 that will see representatives answer questions from BCUC panel members.

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The BCUC said Friday it has already identified a list of companies and other parties it will request to participate as interveners and submit evidence and answers to the questionnaire, which will be due June 27.

READ MORE: Premier John Horgan asking B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate record breaking gas prices

The 30-point questionnaire asks companies to explain where they get their product from; how it’s transported, stored and refined; and what cost drivers impact the price of their product.

Other companies — including refiners, wholesalers, distributors and marketers — will have until June 13 to request intervener status if they wish to participate as well.

The inquiry will also explore the differences between refining and retail margins, how competition impacts pricing, and what other jurisdictions are doing to manage gas prices.

READ MORE: Should B.C. regulate the price of gas? Economist says it’s the antidote to oil industry ‘gouging’

The BCUC said it’s also been mandated to “explore mechanisms the province could use to moderate price fluctuations and increases.”

The answer to how to control the price of gas in the province has created a political headache for Horgan and the NDP.

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A recent survey found a majority of British Columbians think the government isn’t doing enough to combat the high prices.

READ MORE: Majority of British Columbians say province isn’t doing enough to combat high gas prices: survey

The B.C. Liberals have recently launched an advertising campaign telling British Columbians to “Blame John Horgan” for the price of fuel, arguing the premier could announce tax cuts or a maximum price cap to ensure short-term relief for drivers.

Horgan has called for both a new refinery to be built in either northern B.C. or Alberta, while requesting the federal government allow an increased flow of natural gas through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline.

—With files from Simon Little and Richard Zussman

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