In June 2013, energy regulation was about to experience a marked change. Then the rains fell, the rivers rose, and Albertans faced the very real drama of heavy flooding.
The newly launched Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)—created by the Government of Alberta through the Responsible Energy Development Act—suddenly found itself responding to oil and gas emergencies caused by the floodwaters.
It was a heck of a way for a new organization to start.
Since that unexpected beginning, the business of being Alberta’s sole regulator that oil and gas companies deal with as they carry out their activities has gone on less dramatically. But ensuring that the province’s vast and complex energy sector operates in a safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible manner is no simple task.
Here are just a few of many noteworthy undertakings from each of the last five years.
2013/14 – We have liftoff. The AER’s start may have been a soggy one, but we had enough spark in our engines to get airborne. We immediately took on the regulatory responsibilities from the former Energy Resources Conservation Board and during that first year added the energy-related functions from Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and Water Act, including reclamation and remediation activities. This also meant welcoming staff from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (now Alberta Environment and Parks).
2014/15 – We’re engaged! Starting a conversation with everyone who has a stake in energy development is a must have, not a nice to have. This is why the AER took measures early to strengthen relationships with our stakeholders. This included creating a multistakeholder engagement advisory committee with members from First Nations and Métis groups, environmental nongovernmental organizations, landowners, and community groups. The goal was to find opportunities for open communication with our stakeholders; the committee meets to this day.
2015/16 – Now that’s a dam safety program! In 2015, an Auditor General of Alberta report directed the AER to develop a watertight safety program for energy-related dams; like eager beavers, AER staff went to work building one. We established control measures based on the full life cycle of each facility, assessed risk, and built inspection guidelines, in addition to inspecting dams at 100 oil sands, coal, and oil and gas operations.
2016/17 – Better performing pipelines. No question, pipelines—and whether they’re safe—have been a hot topic for some time. That year the AER released its first report revealing how pipeline operators are performing—with details not only on the sector as a whole but on individual companies. The report is part of the AER’s industry performance program, which also includes a report on industry water use.
2017/18 – Our day in court. The AER argued before the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a lower-court decision in the Redwater Energy case that would allow creditors and trustees of bankrupt energy companies to walk away from their obligations to clean up oil and gas sites. It should be noted that the Redwater decision affects not just Alberta’s oil and gas industry and our ability to enforce our rules; it impacts all industries and regulators in all provinces.
An Employee’s Perspective
We asked a few long-time employees what they thought was the AER’s greatest accomplishment or most interesting project. Here’s what they had to say:
I believe one of the AER’s greatest accomplishments has been the tremendous amount of knowledge our inspection staff have gained. As the “boots on the ground” for the AER, our inspectors were expected to learn all the enactments that apply to an energy site. This would be like a law enforcement officer learning how to be a fire fighter and surgeon – they are expected to know a lot!
The work of the Regulatory Excellence Task Force was particularly rewarding as it allowed me to collaborate with staff from across the AER to engage directly with our stakeholders to define regulatory excellence for the AER and for Alberta. I believe this work laid the foundation for our new strategy and the great integrated work we’ve undertaken this year.
One of our greatest accomplishments at the Alberta Geological Survey was developing the 3D Geological Framework. Great things have already developed from these 3D geological models, like our 3D Provincial Geological Framework Model of Alberta, Minecraft models, and our 3D prints of the province. We use these to support the AER’s science-based decisions and to communicate geoscience to Albertans.
The Integrated Decision Approach (IDA) stands out most to me. I believe we’ve done a good job of streamlining our internal processes, but it wasn’t until IDA that we were truly looking at the integration of activities under the energy and specified enactments. I think IDA will deliver significant value internally, to industry, and also to our stakeholders and indigenous peoples of Alberta.