Filling in the gaps – more reasons to speak up about Alberta’s new energy regulator

Filling in the gaps – more reasons to speak up about Alberta’s new energy regulator

Two Oils of Alberta by Rosemary Ratcliff / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Alberta Energy is now half-way through its consultation workshops on regulations under the Responsible Energy Development Act, which will set out process and rules for the new Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The workshops will be completed by mid-March. Earlier this week, we set out some broad reasons why Albertans should get involved in the consultations. Having gathered more information to let you know what Alberta Energy is asking and how these workshops are carried out, we’re back with a couple more reasons why you should speak up. Remember, you don’t need to read the Act, just have some opinions and ideas about how energy development in Alberta works and doesn’t work; how it should work responsibly in the future; and what you want your Alberta and your environment to look like going forward.

So what should you expect if you’re thinking of going to a workshop? These sessions are set up as 3-hour public meetings with facilitated discussions. The workshop begins with a brief introduction by an Alberta Energy official, who provides some background on the single energy regulator initiative, the Act and the AER. This is followed by break-out discussions on three topic areas that parallel the broad questions being asked in the government’s online survey.

One topic area is titled “engagement in the process” and deals primarily with communications from the AER: How should notices and AER decisions be communicated? What timelines should apply for people to respond? A second topic area is “protecting the interest of Albertans” and deals with procedural questions. What should the AER consider in making decisions? What circumstances should move applications to hearings? How should the AER use alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation?

This brings us to a gap that needs filling and another reason to speak up and participate: none of the questions being asked address who should be allowed to participate in the AER processes. When the Act was before the Legislature, we and many others raised concerns that the system being created was too narrow; that it took away long-standing procedural rights for Albertans related to energy decision-making; and that it would limit the ability of Albertans to raise environmental concerns caused by energy development. The questions being asked in the consultation do not directly deal with participation rights. It’s key for Albertans who are concerned about the limits and reductions that the Act will create on public engagement in energy regulatory decisions to speak up about this gap and how it should be fixed.

The third topic area to be addressed is the landowner registry, a tool created by the Act to allow landowners to register and seek enforcement of private surface agreements with energy companies. The government is asking how the registry and AER should be set up to honour these agreements, and what these agreements should contain to make them eligible for registration. While the creation of a registry is a positive step to assist landowners, an important detail will make a big difference for many landowners and is another gap we see: the registry is not available for private surface agreements that pre-date the Act. This means that only agreements created after the Act comes into effect will have the benefit of registration and enforcement assistance from the AER. Landowners with agreements created before the Act are in the same position as they were before; they will see no benefit from the creation of this registry. The consultations give these landowners an opportunity to express their opinions on whether and how they should be able to use the registry.

What if you can’t make it to a workshop? How can you make yourself heard? There are a couple of options available to Albertans beyond the workshops. One step is to complete the online survey (see the link above); the questions are largely the same as those being discussed at the workshops. Another step is to send your written comments to Alberta Energy’s Policy Management Office, to the attention of either Wade Clark (wade.clark@gov.ab.ca) or Cynthia Farmer (cynthia.farmer@gov.ab.ca) by e-mail or regular mail. The mailing address is: Alberta Energy, Policy Management Office, 3rd Floor, Terrace Building, 9515 – 107 Street, Edmonton, AB, T5K 2C3.

Have you participated in the consultations so far? We want to hear about it! Share your experience and thoughts with us by posting a comment below.

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