01 Sep Updates to Alberta’s Geothermal Resource Regulatory System
Updates to Alberta’s Geothermal Resource Regulatory System
Alberta’s system for regulating geothermal resources is relatively new and continues to be augmented. This summer, the Alberta Energy Regulator (the AER) finalized Directive 089: Geothermal Resource Development (the Directive) and the provincial government enacted the Geothermal Resource Development Rules regulation (the Rules). Both the Directive and the Rules apply only to deep geothermal resources (i.e. those resources which are below the base of groundwater protection) and are made pursuant to the Geothermal Resource Development Act (the GRDA).
The Directive sets out the AER’s requirements for the entire life cycle of a geothermal development: initiation, construction, operation, and closure. The AER’s approach to regulating geothermal developments is similar to that taken for oil and gas developments and many of the same requirements apply. As such, the Directive makes reference to numerous other AER directives that also apply to geothermal development.
The Directive defines the different types of geothermal developments and systems, and identifies the necessary licences and authorizations for geothermal wells, facilities, and pipelines. There are technical requirements for well, facility and pipeline design; inactive wells and facilities; well, facility and pipeline closure; risk assessment; and induced seismicity set out in the Directive (and often referencing other AER directives).
Other matters covered by the Directive include the requirements for converting an oil and gas well to a geothermal well; the process for transferring geothermal well, facility and pipeline licences; and requirements for data filing, measurement and reporting.
Because the Surface Rights Act does not apply to geothermal developments, the Directive sets out what rights and consents must be obtained with respect to surface access. As well, the Directive indicates that the applicant must have a geothermal resource tenure lease from the government or documentation of authorization from the freehold mineral owners (as applicable).
Notably, the Licensee Management Program that applies to oil and gas developments is also applicable to geothermal developments. This means that holistic licensee assessment, estimates of liability, and security deposit requirements apply to geothermal resource developments.
The Rules set the requirements for geothermal resource development licencing, as well as operating standards. It also establishes the standards for recording, collecting, and reporting geothermal well and facility data.
Interpretative provisions are set out in Part 1 of the Rules. As well, this part incorporates by reference 26 of the AER’s directives as being applicable to geothermal resource developments.
Part 2 of the Rules deals with applications, licences, security and variances. License eligibility requirements are enumerated in section 6 and include meeting the AER’s directives in this regard. The Rules indicate that security may be required before the transfer of a license. Security may also be required at any time the AER considers it appropriate for offsetting costs associated with suspension, abandonment or reclamation of a well, facility or site; with providing care and custody of a well, facility or site; or with other activities necessary to protect the public and the environment. Section 13 of the Rules allows a licensee to seek a variance of the requirements set out in the Rules (as specified in Directive 089).
Part 3 of the Rules sets out requirements for geothermal operations such as drilling, completing and servicing of wells. For example, well casing and tubing requirements are set; a requirement for a 3 km buffer around non-abandoned underground mines (400 m for abandoned mines) is set; and signage requirements are set. The Rules also set out the requirements pertaining to emergency preparedness and response.
A number of requirements in Part 3 of the Rules address environmental matters. For instance, there are numerous requirements established for storage of operational fluids, hydrocarbons, produced water, process chemical or oilfield wastes, and management of wastes. There are also requirements for prevention of spills and for air emissions management. Additional requirements are set out for wells or facilities that are closer than 100m to water bodies to help prevent spills or leaks. There is a general requirement to not waste energy resources.
Part 4 of the Rules addresses matters related to well sampling, testing, record-keeping and reporting. Certain information as enumerated in section 95 – such as completion details, core analysis samples and fluid analysis – is kept confidential for one year from the drilling finish date (although that may be extended at the request of the licensee). There is other information that must be made available to the public at any time (this is also outlined in section 95) and includes information about hydraulic fracturing fluids and fluids injected or produced from a well.
Suspension, abandonment and closure requirements are set out in Part 5 of the Rules. Like with oil and gas wells and facilities, the AER may establish closure quotas that require a certain amount of work be done or money be spent with respect to closure of wells and facilities.
Overview of Alberta’s Geothermal Resource Regulatory System
Download a brief overview of Alberta’s geothermal resource regulatory system. This is a two-page document that provides a glimpse at the laws that apply to Alberta’s geothermal resources (both deep and shallow).
By Brenda Heelan Powell
The ELC published Gaining Steam: A Regulatory and Policy Framework for Geothermal Energy Development in Alberta in late 2020 which looks at geothermal resource regulatory and policy frameworks in Alberta and elsewhere. This webinar series complements our publication and looked at:
May 31: Alberta’s Geothermal Regulatory Framework
June 7: Recommendations for Geothermal Law & Regulation in Alberta
June 14: Geothermal Policy Support and Incentives
View the recordings and download slides here: https://elc.ab.ca/publications/videos-and-webinars/
This webinar series was made possible with funding from
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