British Columbia

It took 4 years for B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission to release information about leaky gas wells

The B.C. energy regulator waited four years to publicly release a report that found at least 47 gas-well leaks in northeast B.C., despite the potential risks of such leaks to human health and the environment.

Energy regulator claims 'due diligence' while critics say information is being 'suppressed'

Gas migration, or gas leaks, can sometimes be visibly observed in the form of bubbles in water around a wellhead. (B.C. Oil and Gas Commission)

Despite the potential risks to human health and the environment, it took B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission four years to publicly release information about dozens of leaky gas wells in northeast B.C., with estimates of hundreds more going undetected.

While the commission said the delay was the result of "due diligence," critics said the information was being suppressed and are calling for a full inquiry into the province's oil and gas industry.

"It is very disturbing that the regulator of the energy industry in this province is holding on to documents that are of key importance to the public," said Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one of the groups demanding the inquiry.

Oil and gas activity is concentrated in northeast B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The report in question was the result of inspecting 308 wells in the Fort Nelson area for "gas migration" — instances of methane migrating outside of its well. The audit found 47 instances of these leaks and extrapolated that there could be as many as 900 in the far northeast alone. 

The rate of confirmed leaks was 5.7per cent, which contrasted to just 0.6 per cent in a similar inspection of Albertan wells.

No risk to drinking water detected

As the report notes, such leaks pose risks due to the potential for methane to damage the environment or enter drinking water systems, although, in this instance, none of the confirmed leaks were near drinking water wells.

The report did not look at any other parts of the province, including the more densely populated Peace region which includes Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.

The 2013 gas migration inspection audited wells in B.C.'s far northeast for leaks. Blue circles indicate wells where leaks had previously been reported while red triangles indicate leaks discovered by the audit. (B.C. Oil and Gas Commissoin)

Wayne Smith is a farmer who's expressed concern about oil and gas development near his home in northeast B.C. He said the four-year delay in having information about leaks go public caused him concern.

"If you don't tell the public about it, then they don't know if leaks are a problem or not, so that's a problem" he said.

"Leaks are leaks. It's bound to happen.That's one of the objections we have to all the stuff being so close to people, but it's what they do about it that really counts."

Change needed: critics

In an emailed statement, Phil Rygg said the delay was the result of "due diligence to better understand the issue of gas migration" and to put plans in place to deal with the shortcomings identified by the report. Rygg said, since 2013, the commission has obtained new equipment to detect leaks and develop new policies around reporting leaks.

Parfitt, however, contended the information was "suppressed", noting the 2013 report was not released until after a copy was obtained by online publication the Tyee, which then asked for comment from the commission.

"Coincidentally, the day that the questions were filed was the day that the commission publicly acknowledged that it had the report in its possession," Parfitt said.

"It appears that the report was only released because a copy of it was obtained by an investigative reporter."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources redirected questions about the 2013 report to the Oil and Gas Commission. 

With files from Nicole Oud and Audrey McKinnon


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