Who gets to tell the oil and gas industry what to do?

The West Coast Environmental Law Society is concerned the government isn't consulting with First Nations, municipalities and landowners as it drafts a document that will help ensure oil and gas sites are properly cleaned up after a well is permanently plugged. But an environment ministry spokesperson says those groups will eventually have a say on its contents.

Last week, we told you the ministry will be spending at least $60,000 on a consultant who can improve the inadequate advice its been giving to site operators in northeastern British Columbia on how to assess that environmental damage. The consultant is expected to consult with stakeholders as that guidance document is drafted.

But, according to a document posted on the province's procurement Website, those stakeholders will include government ministries, two petroleum industry groups, the society regulating professionals authorized to review contaminated sites, as well as "individual oil companies and individual consulting firms."

Municipalities and landowners didn't make that list. The document also states there isn't "a role for First Nations at this stage," with those groups only being engaged if the advice the consultant develops is turned into "formal technical guidance" for the industry.

That's a concern for West Coast Environmental Law Society lawyer Andrew Gage.

"If the government doesn't get these guidelines on contaminated sites right, it's not industry stakeholders that pay the price. It's the people who live in the Peace River," he stated in an email.

"The government needs to consult First Nations, local governments and land owner associations. Indeed, the region's First Nations have a constitutionally protected right to be consulted at the earliest stages of this type of initiative."

But the environment ministry spokesperson stated, "First Nations, landowners and local government will, in fact, have the opportunity for input once the draft guidance is developed."

"As with any of our guidance documents, they are always posted for comment and review," the spokesperson continued, with the "final or near final document" being amended based on that input.

The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned document.

Guidance for characterizing contamination questions and answers

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