Clark backer lobbying for major CO2 producer

One of the premier's most vocal right-wing backers has registered to lobby the government about its carbon capture and storage laws on behalf of the province's largest greenhouse gas producing firm. But the company, Spectra Energy Corp., said former federal Conservative government house leader Jay Hill's role in the discussions about those laws has probably been very minor and, in any case, represents just part of the work he does for the company.

Carbon capture and storage projects are meant to stop those gases from being released into the atmosphere by storing them underground. But they've also been the subject of criticism by environmentalists because of questions surrounding their cost and effectiveness, as well as the potential health and safety risks associated with them.

On June 16, Mr. Hill registered to contact elected officials about setting up a "workable" framework for those projects for Spectra subsidiary Westcoast Energy Inc., a top donor to Christy Clark's successful Liberal leadership campaign.

It's Houston, Texas-based parent has been angling to build what would be one of the largest carbon capture and storage facilities in the world near its Fort Nelson gas plant - which released more than a million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2009.

A government spokesperson said there aren't presently any legal barriers to building those facilities. Spectra already has eight small carbon capture and storage projects in British Columbia.

But the spokesperson confirmed the government is presently working on policies that will address some of the "special issues" related to those projects, including their "long-term stewardship and liability."

Liability is one of the biggest issues for companies that are eyeing carbon capture and storage facilities.

In fact, Gary Weilinger, the vice-president of strategic development and external relations for Spectra's western Canadian operations, said the company's policy on who it wants to see responsible for sequestered gases and for how long is "something that we're actually currently working on right now."

All that work is proceeding as Spectra continues to investigate the feasibility of its proposed Fort Nelson project - a study that is being funded, in part, by a $3.4 million grant from the province.

Mr. Weilinger said that study will help ensure the company completely understands the risks associated with the project - and can mitigate them - before making a decision on whether to build it.

"We want to do that safely and reliably," the executive said.

But British Columbia's support for the investigation pales in comparison to the $2 billion fund Alberta created in 2008 to subsidize the construction of such facilities. The money has since been allocated to companies like Shell Canada Ltd., Chevron Canada Ltd., TransAlta Corp. and Enbridge Inc.

Mr. Weilinger said Mr. Hill has probably been "involved with us, from time to time, in conversations (with the British Columbia government) that includes CCS."

But "I don't see Jay walking into Victoria speaking to ministers specifically on our behalf about CCS" as a result of the "complexity and nature of that project."

Instead, the executive said "what Jay is really doing for us is, when we're developing communications materials or working with the province, it's just nice to have another set of eyes as an expert saying, 'This doesn't make sense. This is too long or I don't get this or get to the point.' And he can be very blunt and succinct."

Mr. Weilinger said most of Mr. Hill's work with the company - which began almost two months before Ms. Clark's leadership victory - has to do with "getting the natural gas story out in B.C. from a whole bunch of different perspectives."

He was hired because of his "very good reputation in the province in terms of his ability to work with, particularly, his provincial counterparts."

As for Westcoast's $20,500 donation to Ms. Clark's campaign on March 1, Weilinger stated that's "something we can't really comment on other than to say we try to take a non-partisan view of our contributions and donations and we like to make sure the democratic system is working and effective."

"Our interest is just, again, making sure that candidates were informed in terms of what we do as the industry, what Spectra does, the investment we're making."

Mr. Hill, who was MP for Prince George-Peace River starting in 1993 and served as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government house leader and chief whip before stepping down from national politics in August 2010, didn't respond to a request for comment.

But Mr. Hill has spoken to the media regarding his support for Ms. Clark when questions were being raised about whether someone with federal Liberal credentials could keep the centre-right BC Liberal coalition together.

Invited by the premier to her March swearing-in ceremony in Victoria, Mr. Hill - who now lives in Calgary and operates under the company name Hon. Jay Mr. Hill Consulting Inc. - told reporters, "I think she's going to do a great job."

Mr. Hill has also criticized his former caucus colleague John Cummins for taking over the leadership of the BC Conservatives - a move that could split the province's right-wing vote.

Mr. Cummins later dismissed that criticism back in April in an interview on Public Eye Radio stating, "I guess that's what you'd expect a lobbyist to say who may be looking to get some government money at this point."

At the time, Mr. Hill wasn't signed-up to represent anyone in British Columbia. But, two months later, Mr. Hill - who is barred from lobbying at the federal-level until 2015 under a law introduced by the Harper administration - signed-up to represent Westcoast.

In addition to carbon capture and storage laws, Mr. Hill's registration filing states he's speaking to the government about natural gas infrastructure projects, harmonizing provincial and federal greenhouse gas reporting regulations and cap and trade issues.

That filing came ten days after Ms. Clark's government announced it had assigned parliamentary secretary Pat Pimm to identify new economic opportunities from the province's natural gas sector.

The status of that review is unclear in the wake of Mr. Pimm resigning from government caucus after he was taken into police custody for following a dispute with his wife. He was later released after one night.

Mr. Hill's involvement with the oil and gas sector also includes being a member of the Centre for Energy's executive board.

The centre - an industry and government-funded non-profit - provides information about Canada's energy sector.

1 Comment

Good to hear free-enterpriser retired MP Hill back the coalition. I know many fed Cons really don't like Christy Clark because she didn't exactly go gaga over PMSH as a Fed Lib, but good to see the free enterprisers coalesce.

Good question, Sean Leslie. Always important to check and recheck the free enterprise coalition against any cracks. After all, we wouldn't want another Carole James in our lifetime, eh?

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