B.C. Works With Blueberry While Pursuing Hydrogen And Updating Royalties: Ministers

Sunrise in B.C. Photo credit: ARC Resources.

The province made the right decision in not appealing a landmark court ruling halting new industrial development that does not first receive the approval of the Blueberry River First Nations, says Murray Rankin, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Instead, he told the virtual 19th Annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum on Thursday, the province chose to work with industry and work with the Treaty 8 nations to come up with a better solution, retaining the services of former public servant Lorne Brownsey and Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlin.

“They’ve been working with Blueberry and with the other Treaty 8 nations at a collective table, because obviously the cumulative effects in judgement effect all of the nations in northeast British Columbia.”

Last week, Rankin noted, Blueberry’s Chief Marvin Yahey was defeated in an election, making Judy Desjarlais the new elected chief when she takes office in mid-February. “She has a background in the oil and gas industry. We’re hopeful that we can conclude these negotiations in the near-term.”

The minister said he is “well aware” through his conversations with industry of what this court decision has meant in terms of uncertainty. He and Bruce Ralston, minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, have been to the region and met with local stakeholders physically and virtually, with those in industry stressing the need for permitting.

Fortunately, according to Ralston, the province’s “skilled team” is working on the negotiations, progressing on an interim agreement with Blueberry that will consider the court’s directions. He said: “That’s an example of change, but [one] where the ministry is able to pivot and adapt and move forward in continuing to build a strong sector there.”

The province is balancing what industry needs with the “longer-term picture of trying to restore balance” and for “healing the lands” of the First Nation, suggested Rankin. “There has been great success with dormant wells up there, and I think there’s a building upon on that success that’ll get us to right place — probably to a new balance, but one that of course continues the industry that’s so important to all of British Columbia, and particularly to that area.”

Hydrogen matters

The B.C. government has taken steps to push forward innovation in the hydrogen sector, Ralston told this week’s forum, including through co-funding the British Columbia Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), which has hydrogen as one of its topics of research, along with carbon capture, renewable natural gas and battery storage.

“And so, I think the incentive to innovate here in British Columbia is captured in that institution. But there are many other companies and institutions here in British Columbia that are advancing that agenda.”

The other “tangible step” B.C. is taking on hydrogen is encouraging hydrogen production within the province, incentivizing companies through a reduction in BC Hydro’s electricity rates for those establishing new businesses within this sector. “Hydrogen is not the entire answer to the low-carbon economy, but it’s certainly an important ingredient, and British Columbia has a lot to offer to both Canada and to the world in its leadership in this sector.”

Royalty update

Another example of change within the province is its current royalty review of the oil and gas sector, according to Ralston, which he believes is long overdue. B.C.’s current royalty system was set up nearly 30 years ago in the 1992 Petroleum and Natural Gas Royalty and Freehold Production Tax Regulation.

Public consultation on the design of a new oil and gas royalty system closed in December, with the findings of that consultation to be made available in a report, with outcomes of the royalty review released early this year. “Generally, the advice on royalty review and systems changes is to do them quickly, and in a comprehensive way. Industry has been consulted and the public has been consulted.”

He added: “The pace there is fast, but I’m convinced we’ll have a royalty system that better reflects the reality of the oil and gas sector in the present era.”

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