Critics call for review after study suggests Alberta Energy Regulator underestimated oil well liability
(Source: CBC News) Critics are calling for a public inquiry into the actions of the Alberta Energy Regulator, after documents surfaced suggesting the agency downplayed the industry’s environmental liabilities and withheld information on those costs.
“The [regulator] has failed to do its job,” Opposition New Democrat energy critic Nagwan Al-Guneid said in a release Friday.
The regulator announced earlier this week that Alberta faces a $33-billion liability from abandoned and inactive wells.
The Canadian Press reported on internal documents suggesting the real figure is closer to $88 billion. Those documents also included a recommendation that the higher estimate be kept internal to avoid alarming investors or the public.
“The documents … demonstrate that Alberta’s Energy Regulator is still operating on the basis of questionable systemic estimates of the cleanup liabilities being imposed on future generations of Albertans,” Al-Guneid said.
“While the methods of calculating this multi-generational liability may be complex, Albertans deserve greater levels of transparency from the regulator.”
Martin Olszynski, a law professor at the University of Calgary, said withholding the higher estimate is part of a pattern at the agency.
He compared the internal liability estimate to the nine-month gap in 2022 between when the regulator knew about oilsands tailings seeping into groundwater and when it informed downstream First Nations communities in northern Alberta.
“This is all a manifestation of the same disease — regulatory capture of the regulator by the industry,” he said.
“It’s crystal clear that there was an analysis done, deemed to be more accurate than any other analysis. Yet they explicitly and clearly decided not to share that information with Albertans.”
The documents also suggest the regulator didn’t have a good handle on pipeline reclamation or the state of 59,000 pieces of energy infrastructure on the provincial landscape. That’s a serious failing, said Olszynski, a former federal regulatory lawyer.
“I’ve never seen this level of wilful ignorance,” he said. “There should be some accountability.”
Mark Dorin of the Polluter Pay Federation, a landowners group that has argued for years that liabilities are underestimated, agreed some kind of probe is required.
“The [regulator] needs to be reformed,” he said.
He said it’s time to stop talking about the size of the problem and to start doing something about it. He added industry should pay much more into the Orphan Well Fund, which cleans up wells for which no owner can be found.
Last year’s industry-wide levy was $135 million. Dorin said it should be more than $1 billion.
“Cleanup is at the operator’s expense by law,” he said. “Until the last oil company falls, they’re responsible for those cleanups.
“If the [regulator] can’t do the job, cabinet should appoint another body.”
A spokesperson for the regulator referred questions on the issue to the provincial government.
Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean said the issues raised are long-standing and promised an announcement on it later this year.
“Our government intends to make progress on dealing with liability management and increasing reclamation of legacy oil and gas sites,” he said in an email. “We believe that we can enable future oil and gas development and all the benefits they bring while also making sure that oil and gas sites are properly cleaned up.”
The governing United Conservative Party has begun a review of the regulator.
But no details on the review, led by longtime oilpatch executive and conservative activist David Yager, have been released, including information on its terms of reference and consultation plans.
Yager filed an interim report of his findings in November, and the government has refused to release it. His final report is due the end of February.
Al-Guneid said an effective regulator is critical for both industry and the Alberta public.
“We need clarity around liabilities for all energy industries to advance our reputation of being a responsible jurisdiction and ensure we’re not shaking investors’ confidence. We need clarity around the actual size of liabilities quickly to identify the problem and develop an appropriate framework.
“Without a competent trusted regulator, the future of all of these critical resources are in jeopardy.”
City of Edmonton working with Norwegian company to turn waste into green energy
(Source: CBC News) A Norwegian clean energy development company has signed an agreement with the City of Edmonton to create one of Canada’s first industrial scale waste-to-energy facilities.
In a news release sent Wednesday, officials announced the city would divert about 150,000 tonnes of residential waste away from landfills, and dispose of it at a waste-to-energy facility operated by Varme Energy Inc.
Slated to begin in early 2027, the facility, which will be located about 40 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, will convert residential waste into green electricity and industrial heat. It will cost roughly $300 million to build.
The facility will produce steam that either generates electricity or provides heat for homes and industrial processes. The process will also integrate carbon capture and storage.
Sean Collins, CEO of Varme Energy Inc., said in an interview Tuesday the agreement will result in what he believes will be the largest avoidance of methane in Edmonton.
“When you incorporate carbon capture, all of the emissions that would normally be escaping out of the exhaust stack of a waste energy facility are captured and sequestered underground,” he said.
“By combusting that and putting it underground, you both avoid the methane at the landfill and capture all of your carbon and put it underground, making the round trip experience significantly carbon negative.”
Collins said conversations around the raw economics of carbon capture have only come to the forefront over the last couple of years, pointing to recently introduced tax credits from the provincial and federal governments.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced the Alberta Carbon Capture Incentive Program in November to increase investment in carbon capture, utilization and storage facilities (CCUS) in the province.
She told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton that CCUS facilities have the potential to become a powerful tool for building carbon-neutral economies.
“This technology is important because we’re working to phase out emissions,” Smith said in November. .
“We’re not phasing out energy production.”
Carbon capture facilities have been used in Europe and other parts of the world for more than three decades.
Varme Energy Inc. is also looking at operating a similar facility in Innisfail, Alta., 184 kilometres south of Edmonton. The company is also exploring projects in southern Alberta.
Denis Jubinville, the City of Edmonton’s branch manager of waste services, said the city released a request for proposals in January 2023 for a waste energy provider as part of its climate resilience mandate and its 25-year waste strategy.
“Within that strategy, we talk about diverting waste out of landfill, every time waste goes to a landfill, there’s the option or the potential of greenhouse gas that’s emitted,” he said.
“We want to reduce that as much as possible.”
About 40 per cent of the waste collected by the city is already diverted away from the landfill through its recycling programs, Jubinville said.
The garbage that will be processed by Varme is part of the 60 per cent that has been going to the landfill.
He said there will be a “reasonable” cost to the city for diverting trash to Varme’s facility, but could not say how much.
“But it is a lower cost than some of the other options that have been available to us for diverting waste,” Jubinville said.
“It will increase the cost to the utility; however, we do have upcoming opportunities … that should enable us to mitigate some of the impacts to our ratepayers.”
Until the facility opens in 2027, Jubinville said the city is working to educate residents on reducing waste where they can. Once it opens, the city will send residual garbage waste to the facility for a period of 15 years.
Alberta’s oilsands pump out more pollutants than industry reports, scientists find
The study, published today in the academic journal Science, measured concentrations of organic carbon emissions in the air by flying overhead and taking samples. Those numbers were compared to estimated amounts, prepared using ground-based data, reported by oilsands operations.
The researchers found levels that were between 20 and 64 times higher than those reported by industry, depending on the oilsands facility.
The chemicals included volatile organic compounds, which are considered dangerous to human health and found on the warning labels of products like nail polish and paint thinners.
John Liggio, a co-author of the study and a research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), said the total output of these chemicals is roughly on par with what’s produced from all other human sources in the country, ranging from transportation to manufacturing.
“When we measured the organic carbon emissions from the oilsands — the total organic carbon — those emissions were substantially higher than what industry is reporting,” Liggio said in an interview.
The emissions levels reported by industry to the federal and Alberta governments are typically calculated using what’s called a “bottom-up” approach, based on estimates of the amount of emissions produced for specific activities in the oilsands, said the study.
Research using satellite imagery and measurements from aircraft is known as a “top-down” approach.
In this case, the researchers drew the samples from 17 facilities during 30 flights in 2018.
“Work over the last 15 years or so has continually shown that there’s more going into the air from the oilsands than is being officially recorded,” said Jeffrey Brook, air quality expert and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Brook, who has also conducted research on oilsands emissions, said the latest study shows “that there’s a whole class of air pollutants that are being released in large quantities that are largely, if not completely, being excluded from official reporting.”
Liggio said recording pollutants in this way would be far too costly to do regularly. However, he said the study can help industry and government better track what is being pumped into the air.
“You can’t know what you’re missing and how important what you’re missing is until you go out and measure it, and that’s the point of this paper,” he said.
The gap between industry estimates and actual concentrations found by the researchers has caught the attention of Pathways Alliance, which represents major oilsands producers.
The study has “identified a difference between ground measurements and those collected in an aircraft that warrant further review,” spokesperson Mark Cameron said in a statement.
Industry “measures emissions using standards set by Environment and Climate Change Canada and we look forward to working together to explore opportunities to further enhance our measurement practices,” he added.
ECCC did not immediately return a request for comment.
The study focused on pollutant levels rather than potential impacts on human health.
But the pollutants can eventually transform into tiny particles like the ones produced in wildfires, which doctors warn can be harmful to human health.
“The tiny particles are something we track a lot as being a health concern,” said Brook.
That particulate matter, known as PM2.5, measures 2.5 microns or less in diameter — roughly 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Such particles can have long-term consequences on human health, said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
“It’s pretty mind-blowing, the amount of pollutants that are being thrown out into the air by these facilities,” he said.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that we have this monitoring of industrial facilities for a reason. They exist so that we can understand the impact of the industrial facilities on the landscape and on people. And unless we have the actual truth in what is being emitted it’s very hard to put that into context.”
Upcoming Industry Events
October 16-18, 2024
Fairmont Banff Springs
Call for Abstracts / 55 Super Early Bird Passes Remaining
ESAA is pleased to announce that early bird registration is open for the 23rd edition of RemTech.
RemTech 2024 will feature technical talks, 2 receptions, 55 exhibits, networking opportunities and three great keynotes.
Professor of Health Law and Science Policy, University of Alberta
Chief Climate Correspondent, CNN
The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould
Former Member of Parliament, Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada,
New this year: 100 passes are available at a Super Early Bird Price. (55 passes remaining at this price) $850 Members and $1,250 Non-Members. When the 100 passes are sold, regular early bird rates will be in effect and available until May 31st. Registration details at: https://esaa.org/remtech/
Call for Abstracts
Complete details for the 2024 call for abstracts is available at: https://esaa.org/remtech/call-
Sponsors / Exhibitors
Previous sponsors and exhibitors will be contacted in early February to secure your previous sponsorship level and exhibit space. Once their deadline to respond passes, remaining spots will be offered to companies on the waiting list.
The Fairmont Banff Springs will be accepting reservations shortly. Accommodations for RemTech™ 2024 delegates start at $265 per night plus $16 resort fee (tipping of bell and housekeeping not required) per night depending on the type and occupancy of the room. Rates do not include taxes and surcharges. Rate also includes 2 free drinks (per room) at any Fairmont Banff Springs bar (valid during RemTech, October 16-18, 2024). Full details available soon along with the reservation link.
Unlock Your Expertise in Technical Spill Response!
RECLAMATION WORKSHOP: TOWARDS A SHARED FOUNDATION FOR INNOVATION AND EVOLUTION
Call for Expression of Interest
The CLRA is hosting a workshop for Reclamation Practitioners at the 2024 AGM and Conference. The purpose of this workshop is to highlight and discuss specific issues facing our industry, share potential improvement opportunities, and propose action items to develop solutions. Discussion items may include (but will not be limited to):
- What are the greatest challenges facing the industry currently?
- What does closure look like? Are there pathways to do things different than the norm?
- Best Practices – what needs to be updated, what needs to be created?
- What Learnings should be shared across various industry sectors, and how can we support information exchange?
- What new technology can be used to help reclamation programs?
The workshop will bring together multi-disciplinary folks from Government, Field Supervisors, Technical Reviewers and Project Managers that are open to sharing ideas for innovation. A report on the day, including action items for new solutions, will be shared through the CLRA.
Pre-Workshop Materials will be developed and shared ahead of time to help prepare you for the day. Everyone should come with an open mind and respectful attitude, be willing to speak but even more, be willing to listen. The day will be a great one for conversation and to help foster a shared foundation to push innovation.
Note: This Workshop has limited space and is not a ‘first come, first serve’ event. You will need to submit your interest for participation consideration. The Stewardship Committee will select participants from the list of Workshop applicants to ensure there is a good mixture of experience to help create balanced discussions. The Stewardship Committee will notify successful applicants by mid-February.
We hope this will be the first in the series of workshops and hope to expand to include more interested parties and topics.
Note: To attend this workshop, you must be a registered delegate for the 2024 CLRA AGM and Conference.
- January 15: Expression of Interest Opens
- February 9 at Noon: Expression of Interest Closes
- February 16: Notice of Registration
- February 21 at 5pm: Payment of workshop required, or the spot will be given to someone on the waitlist.
Registration Fee: $95.00
Theme: Not Just Reclamation
The Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (CLRA) will be hosting its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Conference in Edmonton, Alberta from Wednesday, March 6 to Friday, March 8, 2024.
The Conference will consist of:
- Exhibitor Booths & Trade Show
- Two days of Presentations – over 45 Presentations
- Keynote Speaker
- Networking Breaks
- Wednesday Workshops – Exciting workshops to be announced in the New Year
- Wednesday Welcome Reception – An Evening Event
- Thursday Banquet and Awards Presentation – An Evening Event
The Conference will be welcoming over 600 delegates across different industry sectors (oil & gas, forestry, mining, municipalities, renewable resources), consulting companies, industry service providers, government and regulatory bodies, research institutes, academics, and post-secondary students.
Conference Registration Fees
Non-Member & 1-Year Individual Membership*
*Cost of 1-Year Individual Membership is $100.00.
More details at: https://www.clra.ca/clra-alberta-conference
ECO IMPACT Awards – Are you ready to vote?
ECO IMPACT is only two weeks away! Our yearly event is dedicated to honour and celebrate the successes of Environmental Professionals (EP®s) and individuals who’ve made a significant mark on the environmental sector. Explore our conference agenda featuring a lineup of 40+ speakers, including governmental officials, CEOs, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and experts! Join us and enrich your knowledge.
NEW Highlight: Every session and presentation will feature real-time AI-powered translation to interpret different languages using Wordly for enhanced accessibility.
*EP® members get up to 30 PD credits for attending!
Register Now: https://ecoimpact.ca/registration/
Nominations have officially ended for most of our awards and it’s time to cast your votes! The following awards are open for voting to anyone in the community:
Recognizes individuals, groups, and communities that consistently demonstrate their dedication to Canada’s environmental growth and make a positive impact on the environmental workforce through their actions.
Recognizes and celebrates organizations operating in the environmental sector in Canada that exemplify an outstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability through their employment practices.
ESAA Job Board
Check out the new improved ESAA Job Board. Members can post ads for free.
- Hydrogeologist, Environmental Engineer or Environmental Scientist,
- Summer Students and Seasonal Staff,
- Intermediate Environmental Scientist,
- Emissions Technologist,
- Intermediate Wildlife Biologist,
- Intermediate Vegetation and Wetland Ecologist,
- Environmental Construction Monitor,
- Intermediate Report Reviewer,
- Environmental Professional / Project Manager,
- Senior Project Manager,