Another government consultation? Why Albertans need to speak up about the new energy regulator.

Another government consultation? Why Albertans need to speak up about the new energy regulator.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many of you may have missed the most recent news about Alberta’s single energy regulator, just before the Family Day long weekend. The Alberta government issued a press release on Valentine’s Day, announcing 18 public consultation sessions throughout the province and an on-line survey. This initiative is intended to gather public input on the regulations to be made under the Responsible Energy Development Act, which created this new body, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), scheduled to begin work and decision-making June 2013.

Now, I know there are those of you who look at government consultations the same way you look at those mushroom fairy rings that keep popping up on your front lawn each summer: you can never really predict when they’re going to show up; they always seem to create more work and hassle than you expect; it usually feels like you don’t have any control over the situation; and often the effort you put into dealing with them doesn’t match the result you see. Plus, it’s the middle of another long Alberta winter; who can win against “big energy”; and have I seen how long that Responsible Energy Development Act is anyhow?? (Yes, it’s 73 pages long and I’ve read it several times – for work, not for pleasure).

Admittedly, government consultations are not things that excite most Albertans. However, below are a few reasons why you should get involved and speak up on this initiative. You don’t need to read the Act. Just think about your concerns about energy development; what you think needs to happen to ensure that energy development takes place responsibly in  our province; and most importantly, what you want your Alberta and your environment to look like in the future.

Reason #1:  This is your chance to let the government hear your concerns, thoughts and ideas about energy development, including how its activities and impacts should be regulated and managed. Energy development is a key economic engine and influence in Alberta. The provincial government hears consistently from industry operators and associations about their concerns and their ideas for solutions. You know, better than anyone, what your concerns and questions about energy development are, but the Minister of Energy and his staff aren’t mind readers. If you don’t take the chance to speak up, you won’t have the chance to be heard and the Department of Energy won’t know your issues and ideas.

Reason #2:  This consultation is your chance to influence the substance of Alberta’s new energy regulatory system. Remember the talk and news stories last fall about this Act being a “Frankenbill”? Much of the buzz arose due to uncertainty about exactly what the AER would look like, how its processes would work and how the environment and individual interests would be protected in the face of energy development. It’s probably more accurate to liken the Act to a skeleton, as it provides the bare bones that this new regulatory system will need to work. The focus of this consultation, the regulations, is putting the meat on those bare bones. The regulations will provide the details for the following matters:

  • How far the AER’s responsibilities will reach, as compared to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development or other decision-makers;
  • Who can be involved in the AER’s decision-making processes;
  • What the AER will have to consider in making decisions;
  • How the AER’s decision-making processes will work; and
  • How information about energy development and the AER’s decisions will be made public.

Reason #3:  The AER will take on responsibility for many topics and issues; odds are there’s at least one that will affect you or that you’re otherwise concerned about. Looking only at the energy aspect, the AER will regulate exploration, recovery, construction (where relevant), closure and processing for:

  • Oil;
  • Gas;
  • Oil sands;
  • Coal; and
  • Pipelines (within Alberta only).

The AER will also be responsible for regulating the environmental aspects of this energy development. This is equally broad:

  • Environmental assessment; substance releases; contaminated land; preservation of soils and cleanup of contamination (reclamation and remediation); and authorizations for processing activities (Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act);
  • Allocation of water rights; and regulation of activities affecting water (Water Act); and
  • Regulation of exploration activities, such as seismic; and authorizations for activities on public land (Public Lands Act).

Can you be sure that someone else will raise the same concerns that you have? Or that they’ll suggest the same solutions that you want to see?

So, how can you participate in this consultation? One option is to engage in the structured processes set up by the Department of Energy: either by going to one of the consultation sessions being held around the province from now till mid-March, or by answering an on-line survey. More information about these processes is available here. Another option is to get your input directly to the Minister of Energy by letter, e-mail, fax or phone call. If you take this route, consider sending a copy to your MLA as well. Regardless of how you participate, if the government’s questions don’t address your concerns, take steps to ensure you make your issues and ideas are heard. This is an important initiative and no one is going to take away points if you color outside the lines.

Interested in the ELC’s views on the Responsible Energy Development Act, potential regulations and this consultation? Watch the blog for future posts in the coming weeks.

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