DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier says he’s concerned about some of the recommendations that were made to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham in an interim report by an advisory committee looking into revitalizing the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve, saying that those recommendations could have a negative impact on the Peace Region’s oil and gas industry.
The committee’s interim report, released last Wednesday, identified 13 recommendations for legislative and regulatory change, as well as four recommendations for action to protect the ALR.
The committee also identified 14 key issues that are still under consideration for its final report.
Among the recommendations for action to protect the ALR, the committee made two recommendations to mitigate the impacts of oil and gas activity on agricultural lands.
The committee recommended that a Deputy Minister-level multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional task force to develop a strategy focused on how a balance can be achieved between agriculture and oil and gas extraction, as well as for the ALC to have an increased presence in Northern B.C.
“The Committee has previously noted that it is imperative there be a government-wide policy shift in identifying agricultural land and industry as a resource equivalent to other resources, and oil and gas is no exception,” reads the report. “It is essential an ‘agriculture-first’ approach be applied to the ALR in the Northeast.”
The report goes on to say that, “The development of the energy sector has exceeded the capacity of the current regulatory environment to protect farmland. The impacts of oil and gas extraction on agricultural land and farm businesses in Northeast B.C. have reached a breaking point. Cumulative impacts over the last decade from accelerating oil and gas development have rendered portions of agricultural lands unusable and others difficult to farm. With continued changes in extraction and processing methods along with the pace and scale of development, these activities that were once considered temporary are no longer. Instead they are permanent industrial sites built on farmland and next to farm communities.”
However, Bernier says that the committee’s report contains recommendations that would seek to undo changes that were made by the previous Liberal government in 2014 which he says gives farmers with ALR land more flexibility.
“For over fifty years both industries have operated side by side in harmony and without major incident,” said Bernier. “Four years ago the previous government divided the ALR into two separate zones in order to recognize regional differences and give farmers more opportunities to make money on their land. The Minister of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee for Revitalizing the ALR wants to change all that, and quite a bit more.”
Bernier said that one of his chief concerns is the potential ramifications for the natural gas extraction industry due to the upcoming final investment decision from LNG Canada, which is anticipated to occur before the end of the year.
“The last thing we need is to be raising more red flags that could stand in the way of building TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline,” he added.