B.C. to require gas, diesel wholesalers to disclose price data

The province will begin requiring gasoline wholesalers to disclose a set of pricing data publicly starting in October, B.C. energy and mines minister Bruce Ralston said this morning.

The goal of the new program - part of the Fuel Price Transparency Act - is to allow more public scrutiny on the gas pricing structure of companies in B.C., Ralston said. All companies that import, purchase, store and distribute gasoline in the provincial wholesale market will be required to comply, he added.

"What we expect is that the scrutiny - that is, public access to the way in which prices are set, the data being used by companies - will moderate and have an effect on prices," Ralston said. "That's what we expect, and I certainly think that when companies feel there's someone looking over their shoulder, they are much more likely to be cautious in advancing unexplained spurts in prices that they were not obliged to explain in the past."

Also included in the regulation are wholesalers of diesel, officials noted, and the province will begin collecting the data in October. The first set of of statistics will be available through the BC Utilities Commission’s dedicated website - www.gaspricesbc.ca - starting in November.

"We know from the BCUC investigation into gas prices that four companies control about 90% of the wholesale market in British Columbia," Ralston said. "These companies will have to begin providing regular submissions to the BCUC with detail information on their fuel imports, bulk sales, wholesale prices and storage capacity. BCUC has the power to publish this information in order to promote transparency and competition in the market."

Similar regulations have already been put in place in places like Washington state, Oregon and Australia, although Ralston cautioned against taking lessons from those markets after similar transparency measures, noting each market is its own unique animal.

Ralston added the province is not looking at regulating gas prices directly at this time, noting that it is a “big step” that would require further public and industry consultation.

"Certainly, that's a step we are not taking at this point," he said. "... What I'd like to do is to see how the requirement to publish wholesale prices works out and what effects it may have on prices. Then we will consider if there are further steps necessary."

In the meantime, the requirement on wholesalers to disclose prices to the public should not be a major hassle for the companies, Ralston notes, since these companies would be collecting the data for their own use anyways without the public-disclosure requirements.

"It will not be onerous for them [gas and diesel wholesalers] to provide this information to the BC Utilities Commission," he said.