What if decisions on oil and gas development addressed the individual needs and concerns of an area? What if residents in communities collaborated to find solutions to issues?
This is the direction the AER is going over the next few years. It’s a new vision for the future that considers the needs of each individual community.
“As the regulator, we haven’t always done a great job of acknowledging the individual needs of an area or a community beyond those directly affected by an individual activity,” says Scott Millar, director for the AER’s area-based regulation project.
It’s a direction the regulator needs to go, he adds. The way energy resources are developed has changed significantly in the past 20 years. It’s no longer the drilling of scattered vertical wells. Development occurs now on a larger scale, in a project style with larger impacts like multiple wells and infrastructure—like roads, batteries, and pipelines—instead of single wells.
The AER needs to look more closely at how multiple development activities could affect a specific area and at the cumulative effects of those activities over time.
Fortunately, the AER has already done some of the groundwork in shifting how we regulate. In 2014, we launched our play-based regulation project in the Fox Creek area of Alberta. That project looked at how resources would be developed and how that development impacted the land and the community. For example, when a company applies to drill a well, applications for many other activities, such as building an access road, connecting to a water supply, and building a pipeline, may follow.
All of these activities have an impact, and under the play-based regulation pilot, the applications to conduct all of those activities came in as one, so the AER could have a better sense of the big picture.
While this pilot included discussions with interested stakeholders, it focused on generating awareness of the project as a whole. And while stakeholders found the complete project picture helpful, they told the AER that engagement could still be improved.
“We know that residents, indigenous peoples, industry, and other stakeholders have unique concerns, specific to their area,” says Millar. “Through area-based regulation, we’ll be working with those who work and live in an area to come up with solutions, instead of addressing an issue after decisions have been made.
Will the AER get everything right on the first try? Unlikely, admits Millar. That’s why the AER is going to test the concept by conducting a pilot in the Fox Creek area. The community and people have concerns about water use and seismic events in an area of the province with active development.
“It’s a fundamental change for the AER, but also for our stakeholders and our industry,” says Millar. “This evolution is going to take a lot of hard work and commitment on our part over the next few years. And we will learn from our first pilot and adjust along the way.”
What is the ultimate goal? Millar hopes that through a collaborative process, stakeholders and the AER will develop meaningful solutions to community-based issues.