The environment is a hot topic (and that’s not just a global warming pun). Canadians care deeply about how oil and gas development will affect the environment and their safety, and rightly so. However, what many don’t know is that when project applications are reviewed, impacts are not only considered, they’re a priority.
Cue the environmental impact assessment (EIA), which is built right into the Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER’s) application process.
In a nutshell, an EIA is required when there’s uncertainty or complexity around a proposed project. The project applicant conducts the assessment and prepares a report in accordance with the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, which protects the environment by regulating industrial activities.
“The environmental assessment process is core to the AER’s mandate of ensuring the environmentally responsible development of oil and gas resources,” says Rieanne Graham, environmental assessment coordinator at the AER. “It ensures that energy projects are well understood prior to project approval.”
Information gathered during the assessment typically includes
- a detailed description of the project,
- baseline environmental information,
- potential environmental effects of the proposed project,
- a cumulative effects assessment that considers other development in the area and the collective impact,
- plans to mitigate potential adverse effects, and
- emergency response plans.
Once a company submits an EIA report, a team of AER experts reviews it to identify any uncertainties or risks. Team members will continue to ask the applicant for more information until they are confident that any gaps are filled.
“EIA reports are one of the only tools that provide such a complete and holistic description of a project,” says Graham. “Bringing the appropriate expertise and experience together to evaluate complex projects ensures that the appropriate level of due diligence is applied to the review process.”
Having a Say
It’s not just the experts who get a say in the process. The public’s involvement also helps determine where the project fits in the overall plan for Alberta’s environment and economy. Notices are published in local media, giving the public the opportunity to provide input on proposed projects. Affected communities are encouraged to share information and concerns with applicants directly to ensure that the applicants produce high-quality EIA reports.
A completed report doesn’t mean the overall project is a done deal. It’s only the first stage of the application process, meaning that the information requirements are met and the project and potential impacts are understood. Only after the report is deemed complete can the applicant seek necessary approvals of a project application.
Environmental impact assessments may spark some heated discussions, but thankfully the process exists to cool those jets and ensure that all projects are in the best interest of Albertans.
Alberta Environment and Parks maintains a registry of all environmental assessment activity. Current and historical environmental assessment projects are available online.