B.C. government considering legislation to force transparency from oil and gas companies

Click to play video 'Gas prices drop as government proposes new ‘transparency’ laws' Gas prices drop as government proposes new ‘transparency’ laws
As B.C. gas prices drop the furthest in decades, the NDP government is proposing new legislation that would make them more transparent. John Hua reports. – Nov 7, 2019

The B.C. government is considering potential legislation that would require oil and gas companies to disclose confidential supply and pricing data to help solve the mystery of the province’s high fuel prices.

Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston said the move comes after August’s report from the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), which found an “unexplained difference” of about 13 cents per litre in prices at the pumps in Metro Vancouver compared to the rest of the Pacific Northwest.

That difference has resulted in B.C. drivers paying an average of $490 million more per year than drivers elsewhere in Canada since 2015, according to the report, which was informed by a weeks-long public inquiry into B.C. gas prices.

Click to play video 'Gas price inquiry flags ‘unexplained’ cost difference' Gas price inquiry flags ‘unexplained’ cost difference
Gas price inquiry flags ‘unexplained’ cost difference – Aug 30, 2019

“People feel like they’re being ripped off at the pump and the BCUC confirmed that British Columbians are paying hundreds of millions of dollars more for gasoline than can be explained by market forces,” Ralston said in a statement.

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“Drivers in B.C. deserve some transparency and fairness when it comes to gas prices.”

READ MORE: B.C. gas price inquiry: No collusion, but unexplained price difference costing $490M per year

Ralston did not confirm whether the legislation has been drafted or when it might be introduced.

The government is awaiting the release of a supplementary report from the BCUC that will include gasoline company responses to the initial report, including explanations for the 13-cent difference.

Those same companies initially refused to hand over their supply and pricing data to the inquiry for reasons of confidentiality and “competitive sensitivity.”

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Big three gas companies refuse to release information to gas price inquiry – Jul 3, 2019

At the time, B.C. Premier John Horgan suggested those companies could face court orders from the commission, saying it had the right to compel the information to be released.

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The companies ultimately relented, with many also agreeing to send representatives to testify during four days of oral hearings that helped inform the initial BCUC report.

Those representatives argued there was no collusion behind B.C.’s high gas prices.

READ MORE: B.C. premier hints at court action for oil companies witholding info from gas price probe

The BC Liberals have criticized the inquiry for not looking at the impact of provincial regulations or taxes, instead focusing solely on market factors.

Those regulations, including a TransLink tax and fuel tax, amount to as much as 40 cents per litre in some parts of B.C.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar, a chief critic of the inquiry, said Ralston’s potential legislation also misses the mark.

READ MORE: ‘Historic’ drop in price expected at Metro Vancouver gas pumps Thursday

“Fundamentally, [releasing the gas company data] probably won’t change a whole lot,” he said.
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“What really needs to change is the government needs to start providing access to the BCUC to look at government policy and government taxation, so we can get a better understanding of what those impacts have on the pricing regime.”

B.C.’s gas prices have continued to see spikes and dips since the inquiry, which was ordered after April saw record highs of of $178.9 in Metro Vancouver.

Thursday saw the beginning of what fuel analysts called a “historic” two-day drop in prices, which fell by 10 cents before another five-cent drop on Friday.