Retail gasoline prices in B.C. dipped slightly during August from near-record high levels, despite increases in refining and retailing margins, according to a new independent tracking service.
The B.C. Utilities Commission has launched a newsletter to report the latest factors in fuel prices, after the NDP government passed the Fuel Price Transparency Act in 2019 to determine why prices in B.C. run higher than Alberta and the Canadian average.
The commission’s fuel price website, gaspricesbc.ca, includes a dashboard that tracks prices in urban communities around the province, and provides the latest corporate and tax data to compare with B.C., Alberta and the national average.
Premier John Horgan directed the commission to hold hearings on fuel prices after regular gasoline hit as high as $1.70 per litre in 2018, as his government continued court action in a failed effort to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Horgan accused suppliers of taking too much profit, while excluding B.C.’s rising fuel taxes from the inquiry’s mandate.
Those hearings concluded without determining the source of the price gap, which shows up mostly in higher margins for B.C.’s scarce refining capacity. Since then, the commission has worked with fuel producers on what information can be made public and what remains confidential for competitive reasons.
Parkland Corp. took over Chevron’s Burnaby refinery, southern B.C.’s last remaining plant producing gasoline and diesel, in 2017. Parkland told the commission hearing that B.C.’s lack of crude supply pushes up prices, with the Trans Mountain pipeline running full and oversubscribed since 2015. Parkland has been forced to buy crude from as far away as California and the U.S. Gulf Coast to keep the Burnaby plant running, and Trans Mountain reports that its original 1950s pipeline is still running full and turning away orders as the expansion project nears completion.
Another factor in high B.C. gasoline prices is the province’s low-carbon fuel standard, which has compelled Parkland to upgrade its Burnaby plant to process “bio-feedstocks” such as animal fats and canola oil to meet the low-carbon requirements.
At the time of the hearings, more than half of Trans Mountain’s crude capacity was being diverted to Washington State refineries, which then sell fuel into the B.C. market. The biggest Washington producer is BP’s Cherry Point refinery near Bellingham, built in 1954 to process Alberta crude from the Trans Mountain line and now also supplied with Alaska crude brought in by tankers.