Cupid’s arrow pierces energy regulator Alberta ERCB by Valerie Fortney, February 21, 2009, Calgary Herald
In my university days, I was a young, starry-eyed believer in love’s mysterious and magical ways. My bubble was burst in a sociology class where, to my horror, the class textbook revealed the first and biggest predictor of falling in love was proximity. Not sense of humour or a beautiful set of pearly whites, but the familiarity of day-to-day contact with another person–no matter how glamorous or mundane the setting–is what brings out cupid’s arrow. I was reminded of this decidedly unromantic fact upon hearing of the provincial energy regulator’s announcement Thursday that it was suspending an ongoing and contentious energy application due to a “personal” relationship between a Petro-Canada employee and a board employee–the latter who made the bombshell admission 72 hours after Valentine’s Day.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board has been holding public hearings since Nov. 12 on Petro-Canada’s controversial proposal to drill 11 sour gas wells and build a pipeline in the Eastern Slopes west of Longview. All that has now come to an unprecedented halt. The board employee, of undisclosed gender, has been placed on administrative leave, and a third party brought in to investigate whether the integrity of the hearings has been compromised. I asked board spokesman Bob Curran just what a “personal” relationship means in the 21st century. Although he acknowledged the vague wording, he wasn’t budging. “What you have to understand is, because of the privacy act, there is very little we can say about this,” says Curran. “I’m legally prohibited from giving away any details.” By Friday afternoon, Petro-Canada spokesman Kyle Happy had joined the cryptic conversation, assuring media the investigation “will demonstrate that the process has not been jeopardized in any way.”
Just when I started to think I’d entered a Seinfeld script, things got more entertaining. I called up Andrew Nikiforuk, the one person I know who is familiar with the board and, married with three sons, also with the ways of love. But whereas I was thinking possible candlelight dinners and walks in the park, Nikiforuk’s mind went straight to the gutter. “People have been saying for years that the ERCB and the industry are in bed together,” says Nikiforuk, an award-winning author who has followed the industry for years. “Now we have hard evidence to prove it.” No fan of the board, Nikiforuk says this latest boondoggle is another example of the hazards of having a provincial energy regulator that receives 58 per cent of its funding from the oil and gas industry. “Their mandate to be impartial has been compromised once again, but this time it’s in the bedroom, not the boardroom.” Nikiforuk is nevertheless impressed the staid environs of a hearing would spawn a relationship with enough sparks to shut down the whole show. “Sex is the last thing you’d think of when you walk into an ERCB hearing,” he says. “I would actually argue that it’s an effective form of birth control.” [Emphasis added]