CEO Interview, Part 2: BCER Mandate Expansion To Continue Through 2023, Says Carr

Michelle Carr.

Running through the British Columbia Energy Regulator (BCER) commissioner and chief executive officer Michelle Carr’s history in management, a pattern emerges of a woman used to making statutory decisions.

Carr joined the regulator in November 2021 after a national search for candidates. She was already in the B.C. government’s backyard, so to speak, as assistant deputy minister (ADM) of the LNG Canada secretariat within the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation.

At the LNG Canada secretariat, Carr’s job was to work with industry, all ministries, levels of government, and communities — both Indigenous and non-Indigenous — to ensure that B.C.’s first LNG export project met government conditions. She also worked with permitting agencies to ensure that they were addressing blockages or any issues with respect to staffing.

Carr also spent four years as ADM and executive lead with B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), creating the compliance enforcement program for the office, and engaging and negotiating with the federal government to enable B.C. to conduct its environmental assessments on behalf of the federal government.

Before that, she helped roll out B.C.’s first-ever non-medical cannabis retail program as ADM and general manager of the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch in the Attorney General’s office.

“It feels like some of those key roles that I had are really the foundation that’s helped me succeed and thrive in this role [at the BCER],” she said in an interview with DOB.

The several directions of the BCER

Today, Carr’s priorities at the regulator extend in several directions.

“You’re focusing on economic development, but also the safety and adherence to your regulatory framework,” Carr said.

“When I think of the changes in our operating environment, whether it’s responding to the B.C. Supreme Court decision [the Blueberry River First Nations decision], our mandate expansion and onboarding new staff, all of those experiences help you navigate in times of uncertainty because there’s that degree of familiarity, but also I think of the vision around what you’re trying to achieve as a leader when you go through those things.”

Changes from what was previously the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) were already being planned when Carr joined. She says the talk centered around their mandate, given the amount of change in the industry already happening. The new name, launched earlier this year, reflects this conversation.

This spring the agency has been in the process of moving from B.C.’s Oil and Gas Activities Act to the new Energy Resources Activities Act to cover the expanded mandate. Carr said that one of their most important goals is being a trusted life cycle energy regulator.

She is conscious of the regulator’s work around effective regulation, the assurance around decision-making, around permit applications, compliance and enforcement, and the restoration and clean-up of areas post-industry activity.

“All of that continues, regardless of whether we have a mandate expansion or not — we’ve got our core activities that are within the Oil and Gas Activities Act. And those have continued through this year,” Carr said.

“We have been known primarily as a permitting agency, but when you think of the breadth and depth of the scope of what we do and did, when I walked in it was everything from pre-planning through to restoration. The organization really felt that we needed a name to describe that broad scope of our work.

“We needed to refresh our goals, look at our mission and vision, and ensure that it was still relevant to the challenges that we had in front of us. Quite rapidly we built a draft [strategic plan] that was approved by our board and that we engaged with both industry as well as some Indigenous nations on.”

BCER’s expanded remit and framework

Additional to the BCER’s remit is involvement in hydrogen, CCUS, geothermal, as well as ammonia and methanol.

“We currently have CCUS from oil and gas activities, but this expands our accountability for CCUS from any source,” Carr said.

The second big change was to the regulator’s board of directors, increasing from three appointments to between five and seven. At least one member is required to be an Indigenous representative.

A two-page strategic framework document that outlines the changes is now available on the BC Energy Regulator’s website.

“We looked at our governance, our structure, our tools, and our people and processes,” Carr said. The greater clarity has been positively met by industry, she added, as well as providing a guide for staff within the regulator.

“One of the exciting things about our strategic plan is we do have an externally facing document. Our service plan, which was approved by our board and approved by the minister, is also posted publicly. And it’s got a goal around our healthy, empowered, inclusive, and modern workforce. We actually have an internal goal that we talk about externally,” she said.

“When I talk to industry about our internal facing goal, they are pleased that we are focusing on that because having an effective regulator in place [results in] B.C. as a preferred jurisdiction to do business in.”

Staffing to meet the expanded mandate demands of the energy regulator has been part of the process as well. While the regulator has seen more vacancies filled across the province, the main operations focus and centre will remain in the northeast of B.C. for the foreseeable future.

“It’s critically important that we’ve got staff in the Terrace office, for example, given the large infrastructure projects underway in the northwest, but the majority of staff will be in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson,” said Carr.

“There’s only a couple people [in Fort Nelson], but it is important to have a staff presence there and as our mandate expands, we may see other needs to have staff present in other places, but at this point we’re not looking to change anything.”

There are also offices in Victoria, where Carr is based, Kelowna, and Prince George.

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