New government says it hasn’t made any decisions yet on urban drilling ban by James Wood, June 5, 2015, Calgary Herald
The new NDP government says it’s not making any moves yet on its election promise to ban gas drilling in urban areas in Alberta.
The pledge has raised concerns in the energy industry, but Premier Rachel Notley’s government has so far provided no details about how it might follow through on the promise.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said Thursday that she and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd have met to discuss the issue but no proposal has been brought forward,
“We have begun our deliberations on this matter,” she said at a news conference in Edmonton.
“I don’t have any specific timelines right now. I can tell you that the energy minister and I are discussing it and have identified some of the priorities for that but we have not taken anything to cabinet.”
McCuaig-Boyd declined an interview request this week but said in a statement the government is sticking with the Alberta Energy Regulator’s current oversight and approval system for urban drilling — at least for now.
“Right now, there is a process in place for companies to follow should they want to develop Alberta’s energy resources. I expect all companies to follow this process, and so do Albertans,” she said.
“No decisions have been made at this point on any changes to that process.”
Phillips is the MLA for Lethbridge-West and prior to the May 5 election had been involved with the group No Drilling Lethbridge, a group that sprung up to fight a controversial proposal to drill for oil within the city limits.
The urban drilling issue has been particularly contentious in the southeast Alberta city and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman, along with Calgary Coun. Ward Sutherland, have pushed for municipalities to gain a greater say over whether drilling proposals within their boundaries can go ahead.
A resolution endorsing that idea was passed by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association last year.
Spearman said in an interview this week he’s prepared to give the new government some time on the issue, but his primary focus is on municipalities getting authority on urban drilling, not an outright ban on the practise.
“Each community has its own set of values and what’s acceptable in some communities may not be acceptable in others,” he said.
In opposition, the NDP called for a ban on all drilling — oil and natural gas — within urban boundaries. There has been no explanation for the platform pledge that only addresses natural gas drilling.
According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, in 2014 there were 26 applications for new wells in urban areas — defined as towns and cities under Municipal Affairs criteria — with none in Edmonton and Calgary. The regulator approved 22 of the projects, while four of the applications were closed. [Emphasis added]
[This AER regulatory process is OK with the NDP?
Single Reglator or Franken-Child? by Adam Driedzig, Staff Counsel, October 2012,Environmental Law Centre News Brief Page 7, Vol. 27, No. 3
County may face questions by Dave Mabell, June 2, 2015, Lethbridge Herald
If it’s drilled, an oil or gas well near Sunset Acres could be one of relatively few across Lethbridge County.
While city residents and Lethbridge City Council strongly opposed a Calgary company’s plans for exploratory wells near the Copperwood neighbourhood, county officials haven’t had to face that question in recent years.
“We don’t have as many wells as other municipalities,” says Reeve Lorne Hickey. None have been drilled in the last few years, he reports. “We have a few in the far north, a few in the far south and the odd one here and there,” he points out. None are close to an urban area, he adds.
Hickey’s comments came after a Regina company, Long Fortune Petroleum Corp., was named the successful bidder in the sale of mineral rights covering more than 1,150 hectares of land near the city’s western boundary. The exact footprint of the lease is unclear, as Alberta Energy website does not include maps in its frequent rights sale notices.
Long Fortune paid the provincial treasury $3,701 for a five-year lease on the Crown-owned mineral rights. In addition, the province collects an annual rent of $3.50 per hectare from its thousands of rights holders.
Contacted in Saskatchewan, a spokesperson for Long Fortune said the company currently has no plans for drilling. But it’s acquiring rights in the expectation oil prices will rise and make the Lethbridge project viable.
At the county office, Hickey said officials have heard nothing from Long Fortune.
“We’ve had no communication at all.”
Before drilling begins, says energy department spokesperson Ryan Cromb, companies are required to consult with stakeholders and municipalities, and to submit development plans for approval to the Alberta Energy Regulator.
“The Alberta Energy Regulator enforces strict standards to ensure that development respects the environment and Albertans’ health,” he says. [Do companies and regulators in Alberta keep their “promises” and stick to “Best Practices” and the regulations? ]
Bob Willard, Senior advisor at the Alberta Energy Regulator, agreed to speak about current regulations.
David Kattenburg: Why aren’t these things being monitored for in the gases that are coming out from flaring and incineration stacks?
Bob: The long list that you’ve identified would be the responsibility for monitoring of not only the Alberta Energy Regulator, but the Environment department themselves, and I would direct you once again to ESRD for them to identify what their plans are relative to updating those guidelines.
David: I have actually, I’ve tried valiantly I’d say to try to get them to explain to me why they have these guidelines that say all industry MUST conform to these guidelines, and then I said well why does directive 60 of the Alberta Energy Regulator only establish monitoring requirements for sulfur dioxide and he said: “speak to the Alberta Energy Regulator.”
Bob: Um, it is important, and this is something the Energy Regulator does lead, is capturing the metrics of the volumes of material, so we do have good metrics as to the volumetrics.
David: But essentially nothing about the composition of those gases, other than sulfur dioxide.
Bob: A totally accurate composition, I would certainly volunteer that no, we do not have a totally accurate comprehensive information on the flare composition rather, we have it for the uh volumes, but not necessarily for the compositions. ]
The Long Fortune lease is believed to include valley lands along the Oldman River, but Cromb says the agency take steps “ensuring that the quality of our water is not adversely impacted.” [What kind of steps? Talking steps?]
Notices of development applications are posted on the regulator’s website, he adds, and residents are allowed to appeal a decision they believe affects their interests. [Yes, absolutely residents are allowed to appeal, but that doesn’t mean any residents, county or municipal councils, medical doctors, or scientists will be granted any standing under Ex-Encana VP Protti’s “no public interest” and legally immune AER rules]
Energy officials have heard the concerns raised by residents of Lethbridge and other communities, he says, but no steps have been taken to give city councils the final word on oil or gas drilling projects inside city limits.
“Alberta Energy has reviewed all the feedback received during the community roundtables and on-line survey, and (is) exploring actions to improve planning processes,” Cromb says.
During her election campaign, Premier Rachel Notley promised a ban on drilling for natural gas inside urban areas. Cromb says she’s followed up through discussions with energy department officials on a number of issues.
“The premier and ministers have been sitting down for in-depth briefing sessions with department officials on these and other issues,” he reports.
“They have expressed a commitment to take a thoughtful and well-informed approach to all future decisions and policies.”
The city’s new MLAs, Maria Fitzpatrick and Shannon Phillips, also spoke in support of the No Drill Lethbridge group’s protest against a drilling project announced by Goldenkey Oil in Calgary. The citizen group has not spoken in opposition to the Long Fortune project because it’s outside Lethbridge city limits. [What if the company drills and fracs under city limits, schools and homes? Emphasis added]