BC oil and gas royalties “subsidize caribou extinction”
The Government of British Columbia subsidizes oil and gas drilling in a critical caribou territory he promised to protect, discovered new research.
The University of British Columbia study used government data obtained from an access to information request to map nearly 12,000 active oil and gas wells across the province. Over a quarter of these were found in federally designated caribou critical habitat for two of the most threatened woodland caribou populations. And of these, more than half were managed by companies that have received provincial royalties in the past three years.
Their conclusion: âPublic funds subsidize caribou extinction.
âThe main reason for caribou decline is the disruption of industrial habitat,â says lead researcher Adriana DiSilvestro. âObviously, companies are cutting roads, but they are also cutting things called seismic lines to locate reserves (oil and gas). And when they do that, they create lines of sight for the wolves.
When wolves can see caribou, they can easily traverse seismic lines – like forest roads – and track them down.
This industrial disruption of predator-prey dynamics has led some First Nations to gather gravid caribou in enclosures in order to reproduce them. It also sparked one of the province’s most controversial wildlife programs – the wolf slaughter.
Of British Columbia’s 53 caribou herds, half are shrinking or have disappeared altogether. The Government of British Columbia says their population has grown from around 45,000 to 15,000 over the past century.
DiSilvestro says the number of oil and gas wells supported by provincial royalties and the overlapping territory of the caribou raise serious questions about the BC government’s commitment to conserve the species.
In February 2020, the province, the federal government and two First Nations signed two conservation agreements protect southern mountain caribou populations under section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act, which includes commitments to protect and restore habitat. The deal was seen as an alternative to an âemergency ordinanceâ imposed by the federal government under section 80 of the act, which several environmental groups had requested.
âThe principle of critical habitat is that it is considered the habitat necessary for the recovery of endangered species,â says DiSilvestro, âand the fact that oil and gas is actively subsidized there is really at odds. with many conservation goals that BC has for caribou.
FUTURE OF OIL AND GAS SUBSIDIES
The amount of money channeled through BC’s oil and gas royalty credit programs is expected to increase. The Deep Well Royalty Credit, which helps cover drilling costs and is the province’s largest royalty program, is expected to climb to $ 657 million in 2024, a 56% jump from 2020-21, according to the British Columbia Budget and Financial Plan.
Fossil fuel companies are increasingly failing to collect their royalties, according to DiSilvestro research, leaving the BC government with $ 3.2 billion in unpaid liabilities.
“This means that the royalty payments of the oil and gas companies will remain current until this $ 3.2 billion is paid in the years to come,” noted the researchers.
In an email to Glacier Media, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said the province was working with First Nations, local governments and industry to ” identify acceptable outcomes for caribou recovery as well as continued resource development in British Columbia â.
The province, spokeswoman Meghan McRae said, is currently reviewing British Columbia’s oil and gas royalty system to ensure it meets the province’s economic and environmental goals.
âA lot of these royalty credit programs were put in place by the BC Liberals almost two decades ago, who never undertook a proper review,â McRae wrote.
She added, âThe review of the province’s royalties will be launched in the coming weeks and will include an independent expert assessment, discussion paper and a full public consultation process.
Beyond the plight of British Columbia’s caribou, DiSilvestro says his research team encountered worrying barriers to transparency, especially when accessing data on the oil and gas industry. More worryingly, DiSilvestro says, the BC government still does not have its own endangered species legislation.
âYou have this habitat that needs to be protected, but there’s no way to do it,â she says.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy said he was working with his federal counterpart to better align approaches from species to species at risk.
âBecause the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is federal law, British Columbia does not enforce SARA; However, the province is working with Canada, local Indigenous communities and local governments to put in place recovery measures for species at risk, such as boreal caribou, âRob Duffus said in an email.
Duffus added that the province is working on “broader provincial approaches and policy tools to achieve positive outcomes for biodiversity and species recovery,” including “considering legislative options.”
With files from the Canadian Press