Alberta Energy Regulator Issues Revised Environmental Monitoring Requirements During COVID-19

The Alberta Energy Regulator (“AER”) has issued Decisions 20200520A and 20200520B (collectively, the “Decisions”) suspending certain monitoring requirements for In Situ oil sands operators and conventional oil and gas producers under the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (“OGCA”).

The AER stated in the Decisions that they have received information demonstrating that operators are unable to meet certain monitoring requirements while complying with various provincial public health orders and guidelines.

Decision 202005230A amends the approval conditions for the In Situ oil sands operations listed in the appendix attached to the decision. In particular, the decision suspends specific monitoring activities, including, for example:

  • Fugitive emissions leak detection and repair programs carried out by third-party contractors, except methane monitoring requirements which must still be met;
  • Soil monitoring requirements required to be performed in 2020 by operators’ Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (“EPEA”) approvals;
  • Surface water quality testing and analysis, except when surface water releases to the environment;
  • Wildlife monitoring programs conducted internal or external to lease boundaries, however, operational migration and deterrent programs must remain in place to protect wildlife and birds at oil sands operations;
  • Groundwater monitoring under EPEA approvals, except any monitoring necessary to protect human health and ecological receptors, with monitoring requirements resuming no later than September 30, 2020;
  • Groundwater sampling under the Water Act; and
  • Lab testing of water released, except for domestic wastewater release. Field measurements must be used if not performing lab analysis.

Decision 20200520B amends the approval conditions for conventional oil and gas operators operating under OGCA. This decision similarly suspends certain specified monitoring activities, including:

  • Volatile organic compounds/reduced sulphur compound monitoring, including monitoring activities carried out by third-party contractors;
  • Fugitive emissions leak detection and repair programs carried out by third-party contractors, except methane monitoring requirements which must still be met;
  • Surface water quality testing and analysis, except when surface water releases to the environment;
  • Lab testing of water released, except for domestic wastewater release. Field measurements must be used if not performing lab analysis;
  • Soil monitoring requirements under EPEA approvals, except any monitoring required to protect human health and ecological receptors with monitoring requirements resuming no later than September 30, 2020;
  • Groundwater monitoring under EPEA approvals, except any monitoring necessary to protect human health and ecological receptors, with monitoring requirements resuming no later than September 30, 2020;
  • Groundwater sampling in 2020 under the Water Act;
  • Quality assurance plan audits and verifications.

The Decisions are in force as long as ministerial orders 017/2020 and 219/2020 remain in effect. These ministerial orders suspended certain environmental and energy reporting requirements during the current pandemic. The ministerial orders remain in effect until at least August 14, 2020, but could be terminated early or extended if the state of public health emergency continues.

The Decisions only affect the specified monitoring obligations set out in the orders. Operators in Alberta must review the Decisions and their approvals carefully to determine which monitoring activities are suspended while the Decisions remain in effect.

If you have further questions about the Decisions, our Environmental Law group would be pleased to assist you.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.