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NDP backpedals on 'flaring royalty,' would charge for all 'fugitive' gas

The B.C. New Democratic Party has backtracked on a pivotal detail that could have undermined both the NDP's budget projections and the party's plans to reduce carbon emissions.

The NDP platform proposes a “flaring royalty” on the oil and gas industry, which the party estimates would generate $400 million over three years. Flaring is the in-field burning off of unwanted or excess gas.

The platform also states the New Democrats would “end routine gas well flaring that accounts for 13 per cent of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

But after that claim was challenged by provincial authorities, a top party official restated the New Democrats' position, telling The Tyee that the NDP would charge a royalty on all escaped gas – not only the portion that is "flared."

"The platform was just edited down a little too much," said Gerry Scott, co-manager of the NDP campaign.

Province challenges 13 per cent claim

The 13-per-cent flaring claim was challenged by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the provincial regulator for the industry.

“Flaring accounts for between 1 and 2 per cent of B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Lee Shanks, commission communications manager, in an email.

A Vancouver Sun article raised doubts about the 13-per-cent claim two weeks ago, and the Globe and Mail questioned the NDP claim on April 25.

The NDP responded in both articles by pointing to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report as the source of its claim that flaring accounts for 13 per cent of the province’s emissions.

But that 2007 study clearly states that the 13-per-cent figure is a ten-year average, and accounts for much more than just flaring. The CCPA report cites a provincial document that refers to, "flared, fuel, processing, shrinkage and plant waste" gas. A footnote adds that the line includes "field losses (i.e., flaring, fuel & meter differences) and loss during distribution and export."

“The sources cited clearly indicated that flaring was part of the number and not the whole number,” said Ben Parfitt, the policy analyst who authored the CCPA report.

“We reported flared and otherwise wasted gas,” Parfitt told The Tyee on Monday, adding that this was stated several times throughout the report. “The NDP has focused on flaring and 13 per cent."

Parfitt said the NDP did not contact him about the report or the figure until last week, when a party researcher called him to request the source of his data.

NDP dismisses question as 'semantical'

The NDP now claim the wording in their party platform is too narrow, and insist they always intended to charge "flaring royalties" on all of what the industry calls "fugitive emissions."

“What we’re referring to there are the fugitive gases,” Scott told The Tyee. He defined that to include flaring, unwanted leaks and venting – a process which depressurizes pipes by releasing gases.

This broader definition was always the party’s intended position, he said, adding he was not too concerned about the discrepancy.

“In my view it is a semantical point," Scott said.

He said he was first made aware of the inconsistency by the Globe and Mail story on the weekend. He said the Sun article from two weeks ago was not brought to his attention until Monday.

“If we missed it then that’s a mistake,” he said. He refused to “speculate” on how the party would have responded had it known about the misinformation.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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