When a new government takes office, there is often a significant change at senior levels of the civil service and among OIC political appointments. One person still employed by the Horgan government may surprise more than a few people. Accordingly, I dug this out of the archives.
By Order in Council dated September 15, 2015, Fazil Mihlar was removed as Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Gas Development and made ADM of Advanced Education. In March 2016, he was Deputy Minister for Climate Leadership in the Environment Ministry (seriously!) and in July 2017 shifted to the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology. In August 2017, the government directory shows Mihlar in the Ministry of International Trade.
I thought this headline at the March 22, 2016 National Observer was an April Fools’ Day joke published too soon:
It is not. Therefore, citizens of BC expecting a changed approach ought to know a little more about the province’s new deputy climate minister. The following was published here about in 2014:
The precautionary principle states that before taking risky actions, initiators must prove the proposed actions are benign. Stewardship is an ethic that requires people acting as surrogates of others to manage responsibly and protect assets of the commons.
For many citizens of Canada, the concepts are incontrovertible but the avaricious care little about consequences for others, particularly for others yet unborn. Sadly, BC Liberals like Christy Clark, Rich Coleman and Bill Bennett don’t see themselves as stewards of public assets, they are facilitators of exploitation by anyone willing to pay to play.
The Clark government is negotiating agreements with multinational gas operators but is in trouble because there is not much left to give. In recent times, drilling credits almost completely offset natural gas royalties and the exploration rush ended so most gas related land tenure revenues vaporized too. We’re told that known reserves are sufficient for the long term and prices are weak so industry sees little need to search for more gas.
The subsidies discussed by potential LNG exporters are for transport and shipping infrastructure and for capital and operating costs, particularly for powering liquefaction plants. Additionally, LNG operators want sales tax concessions and assurance that foreign workers can be imported for construction and operation of facilities.
Expansion of BC’s gas industry depends on LNG but liquefaction plants are non-starters unless government agrees to subsidies and concessions. Of the latter, a significant issue is government willingness to let gas producers set rules for production. Hiring mossbacked Fazil Mihlar as Assistant Deputy Minister for oil and strategic initiatives signaled that government will not allow environmental standards to interfere with production. Mihlar is a self-proclaimed risk-taker and an opponent of state involvement in matters of business.
This is unfortunate because the weight of new science, at least that which is independent of the fossil fuel business, declares that increases in gas production involve previously unrecognized dangers. The latest, from the National Academy of Sciences, is discussed in the linked article below.
New Study Finds U.S. Has Greatly Underestimated Methane Emissions, New York Times, November 25, 2013
A comprehensive new study of atmospheric levels of methane, an important greenhouse gas released by leaky oil and gas operations and livestock, has found much higher levels over the United States than those estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and an international greenhouse gas monitoring effort. The paper, “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States,” is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…
With Put the brakes on LNG until impact of fracking investigated, Laila Yuile draws attention to deficient science surrounding hydraulic fracturing in British Columbia:
The rush to develop LNG resources is appalling, considering several countries, states and provinces have already banned or put a moratorium on fracking until the considerable environmental concerns can be addressed. Here in B.C., there are grave concerns about the massive amounts of fresh water being used for the process, and how an expansion will impact local water supplies, and the sustainability of rivers and streams…
Many issues are at play in development of natural gas production in this province. Protection of water resources is but one. Undeniably, persons in positions of authority in the federal and provincial governments care little about water and other environmental elements or about fair economic returns to citizens: the putative owners of natural resources. As Noah Scape commented at Andrew Nikiforuk’s report on the Encana contamination lawsuit,
This case is evidence that Govt works for Corporations and not the citizens…
Is hydrofracturing safe? I’m a layperson but I’ve done considerable study so I can respond to that question. The answer: yes and no. However, even that may be uncertain.
The National Science Foundation funded a study titled Impact of Shale Gas Development on Regional Water Quality. The environmental engineer who led the review stated,
“This is an industry that’s in its infancy, so we don’t really know a lot of things.”
As in most situations where the science is evolving, interested parties turn to trusted sources who will deliver opinions or make presentations that suit their own needs. Vancouver saw an example in December 2012 when Charles Groat of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas delivered, as Mark Hume reported:
…a definitive statement that the widely held environmental concerns about fracking were simply unfounded.
It turned out that the only thing truly definitive was that Mr. Groat had ethical and independence issues that troubled the University of Texas, itself not a paragon of virtue when business and academic interests conflict. Mr. Groat was encouraged to move on from UT Austin.
Risks of producing hydrocarbons by hydraulic fracturing relate to more than water. One of the hazards comes from methane leakage during production and transport of gas. This audio clip is from an interview with Cornell University’s Dr. Robert Howarth, taken from a program produced by scientists at Cambridge. (The full program, What is Fracking? is a podcast that can be found at The Naked Scientists. Here, I present only a four minute segment.
Dr. Howarth challenges the assumption that shale gas has a low GHG footprint and he cites work by Cornell colleague Dr. Anthony Ingraffea and scientists at Duke University. Of course, science that doesn’t promote the oil and gas industry is quickly targeted by hired guns, most involved with lobbying and public relations rather than science and technology. (Follow the link to Ingraffea’s story of Halliburton and the black olives.)
In all likelihood, in particular geologic situations, fracking can proceed with acceptable risks, provided that scrupulous attention is paid to the integrity of fracked wells.
Writing about the methodology in the northeastern U.S., Scientific American noted,
There are many ways for things to go wrong with a natural gas well during the fracking process. A new well—or the 100,000 or so existing but forgotten wells—can allow natural gas from either the Marcellus or shallower deposits to migrate up and out of the rock and into water.
…One reason there is no such irrefutable evidence [of ground contamination] is because of a lack of publicly available baseline data for the condition of groundwater prior to any drilling and fracking. That data is collected, often by the gas companies themselves, but not shared due to privacy issues…
In Canada, with regulators dedicated to eliminating obstacles to expanded oil and gas production, oversight is minimal or non-existent. Industry has almost a free hand to do what suits their economic interests and, if dealing with wastewater and preventing or solving gas leaks is too costly, contaminated wastewater and slippery gas will be allowed to escape.
The preceding article at In-Sights, They assume we’re feckless idiots and they might be right, demonstrates that recently, contrary to public messaging, the natural gas industry has barely contributed to public coffers in BC. Liberals encourage expectations that tens of billions of dollars from natural gas production will pay down debt and provide public services. However, in the last fiscal year, royalties from gas producers added $8 million to the province’s bottom line. That’s only half the profits claimed by B.C. Ferries after it booked subsidies of $210 million and paid bonuses to management for the result.
The net amount of royalties that government receives from natural gas production surprises everyone I know who has not examined public accounts in detail. Certainly, the financial situation indicates the political influence wielded by extractive industries in British Columbia. Another indicator is the appointment of Fazil Mihlar as Assistant Deputy Minister, Oil & Strategic Initiatives, BC Ministry of Natural Gas Development.
Mihlar has moved from the Fraser Institute to the Vancouver Sun and now to a senior position in the BC government’s ministry of gas promotion. This latest move will please industry immensely. A regulator who doesn’t believe in regulation is akin to a banker who turns off the security systems, unlocks the cash vaults and leaves the doors open.
However, there is much more to Fazil Mihlar’s ideology than his belief that business should operate without restraints imposed by governments. I looked through newspaper archives and Tweeted a number of statements and assertions by or about Mihlar. Collectively, they paint an incomplete but useful portrait of the man. See if you agree.