The independent agency that regulates British Columbia's oil and gas industry has no restrictions on its staff being seconded to the firms they're responsible for watchdogging. The agency confirmed that position after Public Eye learned one of its senior employees was temporarily assigned to work for Encana Corp., Canada's largest natural gas producer. Leading British Columbia environmentalist Will Horter has said that secondment "raises a lot of issues around bias" at the commission. But a spokesperson for the regulatory agency outlined measures that were taken to ensure the employee wasn't in a perceived or potential conflict while at Encana.
According to records obtained via a freedom of information request, Ben Mitchell-Banks - who was then the commission's compliance and enforcement director - was seconded to Encana on May 10, 2004.
Mr. Mitchell-Banks worked for the company as a surface land regulatory affairs coordinator. That secondment was supposed to end on May 1, 2005. But, on April 15, 2005, the agreement was extended for a year - up to April 30, 2006.
In an email, commission communications manager Lee Shanks stated Mr. Mitchell-Banks was seconded so he could gain an "understanding of the industry position on application quality (to reduce the number of administrative declines) and handing of public complaints."
Ms. Shanks also stressed Mr. Mitchell-Banks wasn't in a decision-making position at Encana, having signed a confidentiality agreement prior to being assigned to the firm.
But Mr. Horter, the executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, alleged the secondment is another example of the "fox watching the hen house" at the commission.
"The OCG has already been accused by many community members who have had to engage with them as the epitome of what's called regulatory capture - where they align their interest with the regulated as opposed to the larger public interest," he further alleged.
Ms. Shanks declined to directly respond to Horter's accusations.
However, only one employee other than Mitchell-Banks has been seconded since 2005 and that was to the Doig River First Nation.
Ms. Shanks also stated such agreements have to "in some way" benefit the commission.
Mr. Mitchell-Banks is presently an executive director at the commission responsible for implementing the Oil and Gas Activities Act, which is introduced in 2008 to modernize the regulation of the industry.
The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned secondment agreement.