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Alberta Energy Regulator suspends monitoring requirements across oil and gas industry

After suspending multiple requirements for industry to monitor air, water and wildlife at 16 different oilsands projects, the Alberta Energy Regulator has decided to expand its suspension of environmental rules to almost all companies operating in the province’s oil and gas industry.

In two new sweeping decisions published on May 20, the provincial regulator said that it was no longer safe for the companies to continue monitoring environmental impacts due to the threat of COVID-19.

Alberta suspends some environmental monitoring at 16 oilsands projects due to COVID-19

Alberta Energy Regulator suspends some environmental requirements

Alberta Energy Regulator suspends some environmental requirements

The regulator also noted in one of the decisions that the number of affected oil and gas companies was too long to list.

“It is not practical to name all of the operators individually that are affected by this decision because of the large number of operators,” the regulator said in one of the decisions.

The other decision suspends multiple monitoring requirements for a group of oilsands projects that were not included in its previous decisions from April 29, May 1, and May 5.

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The regulator’s decisions come after the province started a relaunch plan for its economy following its COVID-19 lockdown, including a bid to host NHL playoff games in Edmonton when the league resumes its suspended season.

The regulator said it had received “legitimate concerns and information demonstrating that the operators will not be able to meet certain monitoring requirements contained in the [project] approvals while complying with the COVID-19 orders and guidelines.”

But this explanation contrasts with the message that Premier Jason Kenney sent to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a May 12 letter, saying that Edmonton was ready to start hosting hockey games.

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“We are confident that with the already released relaunch plan, there would be a clear path for the NHL to work with public health officials to allow these NHL games to take place,” Kenney wrote in the letter.

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Monique Dubé, former chief scientist of the regulator from 2014 to 2017, who recently left a senior position at Alberta Environment and Parks, told Global News that some of the AER decisions are risky and don’t appear to be justified.

“We’re talking about protection of people and the environment from acute incidents that could affect environmental health and human health in the short term,” she said.

“On one hand, we’ve got reopening plans, well underway, including conversations related to the NHL, where precautions could be taken. On the other hand, we are basically at 95 per cent of what the AER regulates — all of its environmental monitoring — has been suspended under the umbrella of COVID-19, which seems like a major inconsistency to me.”

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Environment and Climate Change Canada, which is responsible for enforcing federal environmental laws and cooperates with provincial regulators, said it only learned about the earlier suspension of monitoring requirements by the AER through the regulator’s website.

But both federal and provincial officials said that their enforcement officers would continue inspections and other activities, during the pandemic.

Jess Sinclair, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon, defended the regulator’s decisions, saying that they were meant to strike a balance between ensuring public safety and the safety of workers.

“In all cases, monitoring activities required to assure immediate public health, protection of the environment, and emergency response and preparedness will continue,” said Sinclair.

She did not immediately provide details of what evidence the government or regulator had reviewed prior to the decisions and what monitoring activities they considered to be critical.

“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and these short-term relief measures,” she said. “Work is underway to determine when exemptions will be lifted.”

She also noted that no fans would be present at the proposed NHL games and that players would stay at a central location, unlike monitoring staff who would travel. She did not provide details about why the government believed the risks of traveling NHL players arriving in Edmonton would be different from the risks posed by traveling monitoring staff.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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