On October 17, 2013, the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) and the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining procedures for improved information sharing and coordination of regulatory approaches on projects requiring review by both regulators (Reviewable Projects). Highlights include increased coordination between the regulators on environmental assessments and project approvals; the proposed development of environmental monitoring, assessment and enforcement plans; and the proposed development of joint protocols for Aboriginal consultations.
Reviewable Projects, for the purposes of the Memorandum, include large projects requiring approval under both the BC Environmental Assessment Act (BCEAA) and the BC Oil and Gas Activities Act, such as intra-provincial pipelines over 40 km in length, facilities for the processing or storage of large quantities of natural gas, and offshore oil or gas facilities. The increased collaboration contemplated by the Memorandum is intended to streamline and synchronize the applications process; to eliminate duplicative regulatory filing requirements; and to improve the effectiveness and enforceability of Environmental Assessment Certificate conditions.
The Memorandum addresses two main categories of collaboration and coordination between the OGC and the EAO in respect of Reviewable Projects:
1. Aboriginal Consultation
- The two regulators will seek to involve each other in Aboriginal consultations, meetings with project proponents, and project Working Groups (established under BCEAA), and will share information for these purposes.
- Where appropriate, the EAO will provide the OGC with an opportunity to review and comment on draft Aboriginal Consultation Reports.
- Where consultation processes do not already exist, the EAO and the OGC will endeavour to develop joint protocols for Aboriginal consultation on a project-specific basis.
2. Coordination on Approvals and Environmental Enforcement
- The OGC and the EAO will engage in information sharing and coordination for the purposes of environmental monitoring, assessment and enforcement; and requests for information pursuant to the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- The EAO will provide the OGC with an opportunity to review and comment on draft assessment and permitting documents, including environmental assessment applications, work plans, reports, certificates and certificate amendments; and applications for concurrent review or orders under section 23 of BCEAA.
- The EAO will have a reciprocal opportunity to review and comment on the OGC’s draft determination rationales and approvals for project applications.
- Increased communication between the regulators will provide the OGC with an opportunity to prioritize issues for the purpose of environmental assessments and identify technical issues for Working Groups.
- The EAO and the OGC have both agreed to become involved in the development of monitoring, assessment and compliance enforcement plans in respect of Environmental Assessment Certificates; and have committed to develop guidance documents for projects that undergo concurrent or synchronous permitting.
- Going forward, the EAO will have access to the OGC’s staff experts to assist the EAO with technical or regulatory matters related to project impact assessment, post-certification matters, compliance and enforcement.
The EAO and OGC’s Memorandum comes in the wake of the province of Alberta’s recent concentration of its provincial energy and environmental regulatory functions into a single body, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) (to view our bulletin on the issue, click here), referred to as a “one-stop shop” for energy project and activity proposals in Alberta. Interestingly, the OGC was originally formed to address similar concerns with multiple regulatory approval processes and combined functions previously performed by a number of different government agencies. While the OGC does provide a “one-window” approach to a large range of oil and gas activities, certain oil and gas activities are required to undergo a separate environmental assessment process administered by the EAO. There have been no suggestions that BC will pursue the recent Alberta approach of amalgamating all energy project approvals within one body but the Memorandum does send a signal that British Columbia is intent on closer coordination of these separate processes, and is making attempts to reduce duplication associated with them.
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