‘We have learned our lessons’: Alberta’s energy regulator seeks to improve environmental regulations by Yadullah Hussain, December 11, 2014, Financial Post and as Environment no longer on back burner in Calgary Herald
Alberta’s energy regulator is working on improving a number of environmental regulations and rolling out new programs during the next two years as it looks to meet public expectations. [Decades too late?]
“We have always been in the environment game, but now it is of critical importance,” [Why suddenly now, after Ernst files leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against the Energy Regulator and wins the right to sue the Alberta government for negligent investigation of Encana illegally fracing Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers and the subsequent community-wide drinking water contamination?] said Jim Ellis, CEO of Alberta Energy Regulator. “We are going to be working in the environment regulations as we move forward in the next year or two.” [Year or two? Why not right now? Better yet, why not enforce the excellent Water and Environmental Protection and Enhancement Acts already in place?]
Last year, the province [deregulated?] merged three regulatory entities to create an independent, single-window entity to assess [and dramatically speed up?] the full cycle of energy development from exploration and construction, [and often intentionally ignore violations?] to reclamation and remediation of land.
The old regulatory system was “horrendous” Mr. Ellis admited in a telephone interview. Some applications that had a 30-day target were taking 300 days to process.
“We have made a lot of mistakes and we have learned our lessons. We are stepping out now with a major initiative which is the best-in-class [de-regulated and unaccountable, legally immune even for Charter rights violations, “no duty of care”] process.”
Canadian energy regulatory authorities are under intense public scrutiny as they look to strike a delicate balance between economic development [subsidies and billions in profits taken, taxpayers liable for the harms and damages left behind?] and environmental concerns that has plagued the Canadian oil and gas sector.
The new model was viewed with some skepticism early on and the announcement of Gerry Protti, a former president of the oil industry lobby Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers [and ex-VP of Encana], as chairman of the AER board also raised eyebrows.
Some improvements are slowly becoming apparent. Mr. Ellis said the unified body has found $60-million in savings in its first year, without affecting staff of 1,200 and with [many] compromises on environmental oversight. The streamlined body has also saved the industry $120-million to date by eliminating [regulation?], Mr. Ellis estimated.
The new [de-regulatory] changes will include reviewing regulations, apart from reviewing aging infrastructure, and rolling out a ‘play-based’ regulatory model.
“Several participants have characterized the exploitation of these resources as a “manufacturing process”. … It was suggested that a new regulatory framework may be beneficial, and that regulators could consider a “blanket approach” to approve drilling programs for this type of development.”]
“The [aging infrastructure] is a liability for companies…” Mr. Ellis said, noting that it’s a balance sheet issue for most corporations.
While AER does not have a dollar figure of the cost of improving or replacing the infrastructure, the province regulates 415,000 kilometres of pipeline and 181,300 operating wells in the province alone. “We are going to work with companies in the coming year on how we can solidify this, and put some certainty in the regulatory system of what we need them to do [to make taxpayers pay instead of companies?],” Mr. Ellis said.
AER’s “next big thing” for 2015 is to roll out a regulatory process that takes into account overall risks to an oil or gas play. The so-called play-based regulation encourages planning by operators working in an area to minimize the environmental impacts of development and is being tested by companies in the Duvernay basin as a pilot project.
“It is a very different model to regulating, [Is it complete removal of regulatory requirements in an entire area covered by the play? One application fits all, no matter what impacts occur, soon to spread to the entire province to enable unaccountable, frenzied, fracing free-for-all?]” Mr. Ellis said. “Landowners and stakeholders are overwhelmed with companies coming in….”
The old ways of regulating are gone forever, Mr. Ellis said, [Is it full steam ahead with pilot project deregulation so that industry can frac and harm to greed’s content with no duty of care, no accountability, legal immunity, unenforceable voluntary promises and no fixes when families get sick or aquifers are frac’d?]
In many ways the AER is seeking a social licence of its own, which is why at the heart of all its efforts, the regulator [100% funded by industry] is keen to enhance its own reputation.
“We are on the international stage,” Mr Ellis said. … “The regulator needs to step up and tell the world what the rules are.” [Emphasis added]
For background about the above clip refer to:
Refer also to:
But there is one goal Mr. Ellis is particularly keen to achieve: restoring trust so that anyone watching oil and gas production in Alberta…can count on its watchdog to deliver.
“In military strategic planning, it’s called the centre of gravity,” he explained. “It’s a piece that you have to protect at all costs, or everything else doesn’t matter. We can be the most protective regulator in the world [of industry?], but if people don’t trust us, and don’t rely on what we are saying, we don’t have credibility, none of that other stuff matters.”
Alberta’s energy [deregulating has] been highly regarded and copied in Canada and internationally. Mexico, the U.K., Romania, Hungary, Quebec, the Northwest Territories, are among jurisdictions cooperating with the AER.