B.C. to track data on gasoline supply, pricing

The B.C. government is drafting legislation that will require oil and gas companies to hand over confidential data on gasoline supply and pricing, so provincial regulators can better understand whether the public is getting gouged at the pumps.

Trade Minister Bruce Ralston said the legislation is a response to an August report by the B.C. Utilities Commission, which cited an unexplained gap of 13 cents a litre in the price of gas. At the time, Ralston called it proof that drivers were “being ripped off when they fill up at the gas station.”

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“We are considering multiple measures, and we are in fact considering legislation as part of that, that would require industry to give information about their supply and prices to an independent regulatory body, likely the BCUC, for review,” Ralston said Wednesday.

“What we’re considering is they would be required to report in a prescribed form, so it would be comparable, managed data. They would have to make that publicly available at regular intervals, monthly or something like that. Nothing has been firmed up.”

The province might bring some version of the bill to the legislature in the final two weeks of the fall legislative session. But that will depend largely on the contents of a supplementary report the BCUC is to issue on Nov. 9. It will analyze gasoline company explanations for the 13-cent difference.

Companies balked at handing over sensitive data on supply and price margins during the commission inquiry this year, saying they were worried providing the confidential figures could compromise their competitiveness. Eventually, they complied.

Similar legislation exists in Washington state and California. In California, refiners, producers, transporters, marketers and pipeline operators must report their product volumes and sources as often as weekly. In Washington, the government produces quarterly gasoline reports and fuel-trend documents using publicly available data.

B.C.’s hope is that public information would reduce the frequency of sudden hikes in gas prices, because the major companies would know that the government is tracking their wholesale and distribution costs through the information they are required by law to submit.

“People are frustrated with gas prices,” said Ralston.

“We’ll see how the industry responds. I’m under no illusions about any specific response. But if it is more transparent, then that might have an effect on the way prices are set. We will see. It may not.”

At the very least, it will give the province and the independent utilities commission a set of stable, common data so they can track the sector and make future decisions, Ralston said.

B.C. is continuing to pressure the federal government to change the flow of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to include more refined gasoline. The shortage of gasoline — both refined and in raw form to be refined at a facility in Burnaby — was identified by the oil and gas industry as well as the BCUC as the underlying cause to B.C.’s high gas prices compared with the rest of the country.

The federal government has pointed to long-term contracts already in place that dictate much of the capacity within the pipeline. A proposed expansion to Trans Mountain — which is being fought by some groups, First Nations and the B.C. government due to environmental risks — could potentially also increase the flow of gasoline to the province if the feds were to set aside more capacity for B.C.

Ralston said he hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will be more receptive to the idea now that the Oct. 21 election has been held.

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