Keeping it Simple
Finding efficiencies in the system helps the AER deliver better regulatory solutions
If you’ve visited a home improvement store recently, you know there are a lot of high-efficiency products out there—washers and dryers, furnaces, water heaters, and even light bulbs—that promise to save energy and money.
But what does efficiency mean for organizations?
“If we are not running an efficient organization, then we are not making good decisions,” says Andrew MacPherson, director of In Situ Authorizations at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).
For the AER, becoming more efficient means more than just cutting costs or doing things more quickly; it means a simpler regulatory system—reducing duplication, changing our processes to improve our ability to get the work done, and ensuring that we only intervene when necessary.
MacPherson notes that “we will always have a finite amount of resources so, ultimately, it is important to use our expertise wisely.”
We will always have a finite amount of resources so, ultimately, it is important to use our expertise wisely.
Changing the Processes
To reduce duplication in our system, we are bundling applications as much as possible. Previously, for an in-situ oil sands project approval, separate decisions were made for exploration, construction and operational activities, and for reclamation plans. These involved different groups of scientists and regulatory experts looking at the effects on air, water, and land, and making decisions based on individual reviews of the applications.
Today, one review team made up of many experts meets to discuss not just the immediate decisions of the application at hand, but decisions that take into account the application’s cumulative impacts.
Says MacPherson, “not only does it save time and energy for our staff to focus and make decisions concurrently instead of five different decisions over time, it makes sense for one subject-matter expert to make decisions at one time.”
Weighing the Risks
The AER is also focusing on high-risk rather than low-risk activities to get the biggest bang for the regulatory buck. For example, last year when developing requirements for reservoir containment, we focused on very shallow proposed wells where the risk was determined to be higher than for deeper ones. Deeper wells have more rock and earth between them and the land surface and therefore pose less risk.
Ensuring that applications for low-risk activities are complete is still important, but we want to spend more time on the activities that pose a greater risk to public safety and the environment.
So, how do we achieve the right level and balance? MacPherson says it speaks to training.
“You can’t just hire a scientist off the street—we have learned a lot over the years and it is important to teach people to only intervene to the level necessary and to remind ourselves what our mandate is,” he says.
He also notes that we are looking at new ways to process applications. One way we are doing this is by expanding our audit system to ensure the AER achieves the outcomes we want and also makes sure that companies are providing us with the right information. It is important to note that this expanded audit system will not add to approval times, but it will ensure that application reviews are done properly the first time around.
“Efficiency can’t come at the cost of effectiveness.”