In her letter, the Premier outlines her expectations that Alberta accelerates technological advances in emissions-reduction strategies and tasks Minister Schulz with:
Working collaboratively with the federal government, First Nations and industry to develop and implement an accelerated strategy for oil sands mine water management and tailings pond reclamation.
Coordinating with the Minister of Energy and Minerals to implement the Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan.
Reviewing Alberta’s water management strategy to increase the availability of water and water licences to Alberta municipalities, businesses and agricultural producers while maintaining the highest standards of water conservation and treatment.
As lead, and working with the Minister of Energy and Minerals, to develop a plan to improve the current reclamation certificate issuance process and streamline reclamation requirements for new and emerging energy sources.
As lead, and working with relevant and impacted ministries, to establish new land-use plans and review existing land-use plans to ensure alignment with government environmental and economic policy.
Supporting continued technology and innovation through the Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program, including establishing new protocols to develop and trade carbon credits.
Conducting an analysis into Alberta’s carbon sink capacity (i.e., forest, fescue, soil, etc.) to establish a true understanding of Alberta’s position in relation to carbon neutrality.
Promoting Alberta’s leading-edge regulatory and cumulative effects management systems, including climate and environmental policies for air, land, water, biodiversity and waste.
Implementing extended producer responsibility systems and creating a circular economy for plastics development and recycling in Alberta, establishing our province as a North American centre of excellence for plastics diversion and recycling.
Working with the Minister of Energy and Minerals, who is lead, to develop and implement a regulatory framework for use of small modular reactor technology.
In cooperation with the Minister of Intergovernmental Relations, defending Alberta’s energy interests against federal overreach and developing strategic alliances with other provinces to deal with environment-related issues.
Working with the Minister of Energy and Minerals, who is the lead, and the Minister of Justice, to review the mission, policies and operations of the Canadian Energy Centre, and make recommendations to align its work with the government’s goals.
Working with the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade, to assist in designing a ministry-specific job-attraction strategy to raise the awareness of young Albertans (aged 16 to 24) and adults changing careers of the skilled trades and professions available in each economic sector, including pathways for education, apprenticeship and training.
In her letter, the Premier outlines her expectations that Alberta continues to be an environmentally responsible and innovative leader in the energy sector and asks Minister Jean to deliver on a platform commitment to develop and implement an investment incentive program similar to the Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program for additional capital-intensive technologies related to the reduction of emissions. This includes carbon capture, utilization and storage, ammonia, helium, lithium, liquefied natural gas, geothermal and mineral development.
The Premier also tasks Minister Jean with:
In cooperation with the Minister of Intergovernmental Relations, defending Alberta’s energy interests against federal overreach and developing strategic alliances with other provinces to deal with energy-related issues.
Reviewing the findings of the Premier’s panel on Alberta Energy Futures and recommending which recommendations of the panel should be implemented to strengthen Alberta’s global competitiveness in the conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors.
Continuing to facilitate and promote industry and provincial partnerships with Indigenous communities in the development and transport of Alberta’s energy resources.
Reviewing the policies, operations and mission of the Alberta Energy Regulator and making recommendations to streamline approvals and align policies with the government’s goals of increased natural resource production, carbon neutrality by 2050, investment in emissions-reduction technologies and increased energy export.
Developing and improving regulatory regimes to incentivize investment in hydrogen, ammonia, helium, lithium, liquefied natural gas, small modular reactor, geothermal and mineral development in our province.
Coordinating with other provinces and the federal government to further explore and promote small and micro modular reactor technologies and pave the way for their use in oil sands operations and petrochemical production.
Working with the Alberta Energy Regulator to improve and modernize processes around the new Liability Management Framework, project approvals and transfer of well sites in a timely fashion.
Developing a strategy to effectively incentivize reclamation of inactive legacy oil and natural gas sites, and to enable future drilling while respecting the principle of polluter pay.
Coordinating with Environment and Protected Areas to implement the Emissions Reduction and Energy Development Plan.
Working with industry and relevant ministries to develop a pathway for implementing carbon-reducing technologies and liquefied natural gas export and credits to achieve carbon neutrality in Alberta’s energy sector by 2050.
As lead, and working with the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, to develop and implement a regulatory framework for small modular reactor technology use in Alberta.
As lead, and working with the Ministers of Justice and Environment and Protected Areas, to review the mission, policies and operations of the Canadian Energy Centre and make recommendations to align its work with the government’s goals of 1) informing Canadians about the importance of the energy industry and its efforts to protect both Canadian prosperity and Canada’s environment; and 2) informing the world about the Alberta energy sector’s world-class environmental standards.
Working with the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, who is the lead, to develop a plan to improve reclamation certificate issuance.
Working with the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade, assist in designing a ministry-specific job-attraction strategy to raise the awareness of young Albertans (aged 16 to 24) and adults changing careers, of the skilled trades and professions available in each economic sector, including pathways for education, apprenticeship and training.
Alberta energy minister told to design incentives for industry to clean up oil wells
(Source: Canadian Press & Journal of Commerce) EDMONTON — Direction from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to her new energy minister suggests the United Conservative government hasn’t given up on a controversial program that would see taxpayers backstop the cleanup of old oil and gas wells that companies are already legally required to do.
In her mandate letter to Brian Jean, Smith charges him with “developing a strategy to effectively incentivize reclamation of inactive legacy oil and natural gas sites and to enable future drilling while respecting the principle of polluter pay.”
That language echoes the old RStar and Liability Management and Incentive Program proposals, under which companies would have received royalty breaks on production from new wells corresponding to how much money they spent cleaning up their old ones. That tax benefit would come despite site remediation being a condition of licence for every operator in the province.
It was condemned by landowners, rural municipalities, energy analysts and even experts within Alberta Energy. Critics said it would reward companies for not obeying the terms of their licences, offer an unnecessary tax break during high oil prices and violate a key tenet of environmental legislation — the principle that polluters pay for their own cleanup.
Before the last election, the government had planned a $100-million pilot project on the idea. After the outcry, the pilot was shelved.
Now, after the vote, it’s back.
“The UCP didn’t want to talk about the program during the election but it looks to me like they’re still going to do it,” said Kathleen Ganley, New Democrat Opposition energy critic.
Ganley puts little stock in the clause about respecting polluter pay. The whole idea violates polluter pay, she said.
“It seems self-contradictory,” she said. “The whole program is designed to have government pay to clean up (old) sites.
“It makes no sense. It seems (like) a communications exercise.”
Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary resource law professor and RStar critic, called the wording in Jean’s letter “clever marketing.”
“They realize this is a marketing problem,” he said. “They have to sell this to Albertans.”
There’s no way an RStar-type program could respect polluter pay, Olszynski said.
“You can’t square that circle.”
In an emailed statement, Jean insisted that he can.
“We will absolutely stand behind the polluter pay principle,” he said. “Many of these sites have been left by actors that are no longer in existence – but for the ones owned by companies still in operation, I will explore every tool in my disposal to ensure the sites are cleaned up by these operators.”
Incentives can take different forms, he said.
“It could look like anything from easing regulatory burdens, speeding up permitting processes, or creating rules that favour new permits for companies that excel at cleaning up old sites. Those decisions are yet to be made.”
Offering incentives for energy companies to fulfil their legal requirements has been a goal of Smith’s since before she re-entered politics.
She promoted it as a business lobbyist. After she became premier, she put it on the to-do list of her first energy minister and placed a prominent booster of the program on the public payroll as “manager of special projects.”
Kris Kinnear remains on the staff list of Smith’s Calgary office.
Well cleanup is a major issue in Alberta.
As of December, the province’s energy regulator said there were 172,236 wells that were either abandoned or inactive. That doesn’t include unremediated pipelines, buildings or other industry infrastructure.
The stock of such wells is growing. A 2021 University of Calgary study found the number of inactive wells increased by more than 50 per cent between 2015 and 2020.
Estimates for the cost of cleanup vary widely.
The Alberta Energy Regulator puts the price tag at $18.5 billion. The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, a coalition of landowners and academic experts, has put it at $70 billion. One internal estimate from the regulator, officially disavowed, went as high as $260 billion.
© 2023 The Canadian Press
AER fines AlphaBow Energy Ltd. for unauthorized pipeline construction
CALGARY, AB, July 13, 2023 – The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has ordered AlphaBow Energy Ltd. (AlphaBow) to pay a $25 000 fine for constructing pipelines without approval.
Between November 11 and 17, 2021, AlphaBow performed work to construct two pipeline segments, near Hardisty, Alberta. The AER became aware of AlphaBow’s actions on November 17, 2021, when the company submitted a notification for a pipeline pressure test to the AER, leading to an inspection of the pipelines by the AER.
While AlphaBow had applied for pipeline licences, the AER had not approved the applications prior to construction. As a result, the AER ordered the company to stop work, issued two notices of noncompliance, and launched an investigation. Based on the investigation findings, the AER is taking enforcement action against AlphaBow by issuing a fine.
A fine—or an administrative penalty—is one enforcement tool the AER can use when companies break the rules. The penalty amount is based on an assessment of the seriousness of the contravention and the effect (or potential effect) it has on public safety, the environment, or resource production.
Before constructing energy-related infrastructure, such as pipelines, companies must apply to the AER for the necessary licence. This process enables the AER to assess the risks and effects associated with the activity, which is fundamental to ensuring the safe and responsible development of energy resources within Alberta. In this case, AlphaBow did not obtain licences under the Pipeline Act, prior to construction.
BC strengthens protection of ecological reserves
New regulatory changes are being made to safeguard the province’s ecological reserves.
The new Ecological Reserve Regulation will enable compliance and enforcement measures in ecological reserves so individuals conducting illegal activities can be prosecuted or fined. Under the previous regulation, BC Parks lacked the ability to impose penalties on individuals and companies that disobey the law in these sensitive ecosystems.
“It is important that our provincial legislation gives BC Parks the power to ensure B.C.’s protected spaces are not threatened,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “This updated regulation will help protect B.C.’s critically important biological diversity and safeguard rare and endangered plants and animals in their natural habitat.”
B.C. has approximately 158 ecological reserves. While scientific research and education are the primary purposes, most are also open to the public for viewing or photographing wildlife.
Illegal activities have occurred at some ecological reserves, such as tree theft to sell as firewood, built structures, and camping and access by vehicle without proper permits. The previous regulations did not allow BC Parks rangers and other enforcement staff to issue fines for these offences.
Regulations for the use and protection of ecological reserves were enacted in 1975, with no significant amendments since. Given they were out of date with modern drafting standards, the new regulation had to be entirely rewritten. The new regulation is easier to understand, follow and will ensure that penalties can be assessed for damage to ecological reserves.
- enabling compliance and enforcement measures for ecological reserves;
- adding bans on present-day activities (e.g. smoking, use of drones);
- amending the violation ticket administration and fines regulation to authorize the use of violation tickets to impose financial penalties for non-compliance;
- clarifying the restrictions on the entry, use and occupancy of ecological reserves, including temporary closure for public safety reasons;
- transferring permit management responsibility from an administrator to the minister;
- the ability to set time limits, cancel or modify permits; and
- removing outdated and redundant content.
To learn about B.C.’s ecological reserves, visit: bcparks.ca/about/types-parks-protected-areas/ecological-reserves/
The proposed changes could use the Environmental Management Act to enable future provincial regulations to collect, use and enforce financial assurance requirements for project cleanups to prevent the creation of future contaminated sites.
The amendments are part of B.C.’s multi-year Public Interest Bonding Strategy aimed at strengthening environmental accountability and upholding the “polluter pays” principle. It could ultimately mean that companies will be obligated to plan for decommissioning and closure of their operations, and be required to provide financial security for project cleanups in advance.
“Abandoned industrial projects can negatively affect communities, the surrounding environment and our economic well-being,” announced Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, in a statement. “Improving environmental accountability will strengthen relationships with First Nations, increase investor confidence, support B.C.’s competitiveness and help build a climate-resilient province,” added Osborne.
B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, George Heyman, said the revised legislation is designed to protect taxpayers who have at times found themselves on the hook for cleanup costs from abandoned projects.
The mining, oil and gas, and energy sectors already have frameworks in place to address financial assurances. Some environmental organizations have recommended the Public Interest Bonding Strategy follow the guidelines set out in the Major Mines Reclamation Security Policy.
If the new system for high-risk industrial projects moves ahead, projects with the highest potential risk will be addressed first, said provincial officials, although the province has yet to define what those risks could be. In online feedback on the issue, respondents noted that risks apply to ecosystems, wildlife, water quality, and biodiversity.
A 2022 B.C. discussion paper on the Public Interest Bonding Strategy states that, “while most companies responsibly manage their environmental risks, some are either unwilling or unable to do so.”
The discussion paper suggests a two-phase review for projects could start with foreseen cleanup costs and end with unforeseen cleanup costs.
“Closure plans could be used to ensure industrial project sites are properly cleaned-up and reclaimed in a timely way,” states the discussion paper. “They are a planning tool that help to identify preliminary closure activities that can be taken throughout the life of a project to ensure that environmental clean-up and reclamation is ongoing and not left until a project’s end-of-life.”
The discussion paper suggests that “proactive planning” around decommissioning could potentially prove to be more cost-effective for companies and result in improved environmental outcomes.
The new legislation could also call for an increased role for Indigenous groups during cleanups in highly-sensitive areas or on land valued by Indigenous communities.
The discussion paper notes that more work needs to be done to clarify and define “environmental cleanup and reclamation.”
Independent scientist resigns from pesticide regulator over transparency concerns
(Source: CBC News) Scientists who have advised Ottawa’s pesticide regulator say it could be exposing Canadians to chemicals at unsafe levels — and one has resigned from the agency, citing concerns about transparency.
Both researchers told CBC News they’re calling for changes at Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). They say the agency relies on an “obsolete” system that could be allowing pesticides with worrisome impacts on nature and human health to remain in use.
“I am not 100 per cent confident that all the pesticides (that were approved), that they are all safe,” said Valerie Langlois, a researcher and professor at the University of Quebec’s National Institute of Scientific Research.
Langlois studies the impacts of pesticides and plastics on the health of fish, frogs and birds. She also co-chairs the PMRA’s science advisory committee.
The federal government set up the committee in 2022 in response to pressure to reform the PMRA. Environmental groups had argued the agency was relying on outdated science and was being unduly influenced by the pesticide industry and food producers.
Health Canada defended the reputation of its pesticide regulator.
“(The) PMRA has a robust pesticide regulatory system, which is globally recognized. It takes its role as a regulator seriously and the pesticide review process used by the PMRA remains fully rooted in science,” spokesman Mark Johnson said.
Bruce Lanphear shares Langlois’ views. Until June, Lanphear and Langlois co-chaired the PMRA’s science advisory body.
Lanphear, a public health physician who studies fetal and early childhood exposure to environmental toxins at Simon Fraser University, said he became frustrated with how the regulator withheld information from the scientists on the committee. He resigned from the advisory panel in June and his resignation letter was shared widely by the non-profit Centre for Health Science and Law.
“I have little or no confidence that the scientific advisory committee can help PMRA become more transparent or assure that Canadians are protected from toxic pesticides,” Lanpher wrote in that letter.
Speaking to CBC News, Lanphear said the regulator’s methodology for assessing pesticides is “obsolete” because it relies on old assumptions that are no longer valid.
Among other things, he said, it assumes there are safe levels or thresholds for chemicals that increase the risk of cancer.
“What we now know for some of the most widely studied and widely disseminated chemicals, like lead … like asbestos, is that there aren’t safe levels,” Lanphear said. “And yet we continue to regulate chemicals as though there are.”
“I don’t have confidence because PMRA is relying on obsolete methods. They aren’t being transparent on how they’re regulating chemicals.
“Stuff that should have been banned ten years ago and only were slated for a full ban this year indicates we aren’t keeping up the with the science.”
Lanphear said studies show that chronic low-level exposure to harmful chemicals increases the risk of children being born premature and developing leukemia, and of autism-related behaviour and ADHD.
“What’s at stake here is increased risk of various chronic conditions,” he said.
Langlois sais she remains on the committee and is working with the regulator to help it reform.
Lanphear and others worry the pesticides industry is exerting undue influence on Canada’s pesticide regulator.
A group representing Canada’s food producers, pesticide makers and plant biotech firms denies that suggestion.
“It’s disappointing to see the former co-chair of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s Scientific Advisory Committee making unfounded allegations about industry influence on the regulation of pesticides in Canada,” said Crop Life CEO Pierre Petelle in a statement sent to CBC News.
“As an industry, we hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to the integrity of scientific data we provide to regulators around the world.”
Radio Canada reported in 2021 that Health Canada proposed to increase the permitted amount of glyphosate that can be detected in food after manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta requested it. The outcry that followed prompted the government to bring independent scientists into the agency.
“What we are facing right now is a regulator that is heavily dominated by industry actors, especially chemical companies and pesticide user groups,” said Laura Bowman, a lawyer with the environmental law group Ecojustice.
On Wednesday, Health Canada announced it has appointed a new co-chair for its science advisory committee to replace Lanphear.
Eric Liberda, a professor at the School of Occupational and Public Health at the Toronto Metropolitan University, will join Langlois in leading the independent advisory committee.
Despite agreeing with Lanphear’s stance, Langlois said she is not leaving the committee because she believes change is still possible at the regulator.
“I would say that PMRA is changing for the good, and we, as the members of the committee, will make sure of it,” Langlois said. “And if I am resigning too, it’s because there is no action that are being taken.”
She said she hopes to see changes at the regulator within the year.
Order to clean up 17 sea cans full of medical waste highlights Alberta’s biomedical trash troubles
(Source: CBC News) More than a year after Alberta environmental inspectors discovered 17 sea cans filled with unsterilized medical waste in west Edmonton, the company responsible is still working to clean up the mess.
Edmonton-based GFM Environmental Services is facing an enforcement order under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act for improper disposal and storage of biomedical and hazardous waste.
After a first failed inspection in March 2022, and a series of extensions to comply, the company now has until Dec. 1 to dispose of it.
Company owner James Humen said the waste — stored in shipping containers, also known as sea cans — is from tattoo parlours, veterinary offices, and dental and medical clinics.
The waste includes old fillings, soiled bandages and used needles that were waiting to be cleaned in GFM’s large autoclave, a machine used to sterilize contaminated items with high-pressure steam.
Humen said he’s had a hard time complying with the order due to a recent shutdown of a government-run incinerator at Swan Hills, Alta., 220 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
Of the 17 sea cans discovered by inspectors, eight remain full. The rest of the trash has been safely disposed of, Humen said.
“This is not festering stuff,” he said. “We’re not dealing with anything that is knowingly infectious; nothing anatomical. We have no dealings with hospitals, so it’s really this low-level, low-grade material.”
The order highlights challenges Alberta faces in disposing of a mountain of medical waste generated in the province each year.
Humen’s company is a small player in an industry involved in cleaning up the mess of soiled materials. The system is facing an uncertain future due to the coming closure of the troubled Swan Hills plant. The facility, which incinerates the bulk of Alberta’s medical waste, has been offline due to delayed maintenance since the end of March.
The plant, long plagued by environmental concerns, is set to close permanently in 2025. The province has yet to decide how it will dispose of its medical waste after the incinerator closes. Alberta Health Services continues to search for a contractor capable of the job.
The investigation at GFM Environmental started with a public complaint. One sea can was discovered in a back alley at the company’s shop in west Edmonton. The others were found in a nearby industrial neighbourhood, in shipping containers leased from a private self-storage company.
The inspection uncovered a series of infractions. The waste was not properly labelled or contained. There were no signs to warn people of what was being stored inside, and no staff on site qualified to handle the waste.
An order issued by Alberta Environment also notes that medical records were found. Humen said a garbage bag of dental records, mixed in with files from a veterinary clinic, was shredded after being discovered.
The company was ordered to stop collecting waste at its shop and in the sea cans, and to hire another disposal company to help with cleanup.
In March, after three 90-day extensions, an inspection found the company still had 14 sea cans filled with waste.
In a statement to CBC, Alberta Environment said GFM did not have the proper authorization for storage of biomedical waste, which is classified as dangerous goods.
If the operator fails to meet the Dec. 1 deadline, further enforcement action may follow, Alberta Environment said.
Humen characterized the improperly stored waste as an unexpected backlog. He said the problems started when a new boiler needed for his facility took months to arrive amid pandemic delays. Limited access to the incinerator at Swan Hills has further delayed cleanup, he added.
According to Alberta Infrastructure, the incinerator will come back online this week.
In 2020, Alberta announced it would begin to phase out the Swan Hills plant and said that by 2025 it would be fully closed.
The largest commercial hazardous waste incineration facility in Western Canada, the plant processes polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans and other hazardous and industrial substances. The site must cease operations because of federal regulations that require the end of PCBs by that date.
PCBs — toxic chemicals that have been used in electrical, hydraulic and other equipment for decades — are known to cause cancer in humans, and can be deadly to fish in small concentrations. Their release into the environment was made illegal by Canada in 1985.
In Alberta, incineration is the preferred method for disposing of hazardous and biomedical waste. All waste from AHS that requires incineration is sent to Swan Hills.
According to a statement from Alberta Infrastructure, the plant processed 1.4 million kilograms of biomedical waste in the 2021-22 fiscal year. About 70 per cent of that was generated by AHS contractors.
In all, AHS — including Covenant Health and its subsidiaries — generated over 2.5 million kilograms of biomedical waste during that period.
Biomedical waste from AHS that does not require incineration is autoclaved and ultimately disposed of in an approved landfill. No waste is placed in storage or shipped out of Alberta for disposal in other jurisdictions, AHS said in a statement to CBC.
AHS issued a request for proposals in the spring of 2023 for a vendor for the removal, transport and disposal of biomedical waste. “The RFP process is still ongoing but we will have a vendor in place before the closure of the Swan Hills Treatment Centre,” AHS said.
Biomedical waste is expected to be processed at Swan Hills through to the end of 2025. The province is “exploring options” for how it will process biomedical waste after that, Alberta Infrastructure said in a statement.
Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician and past-president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said systemic changes are needed to cut back on the mounting volume of medical waste created each year.
“Anybody who works in the health-care system, who cares about the planet, has issues with the amount of waste we produce,” Vipond said. “We’ve really moved into a disposable single-use system where almost everything is thrown away.
“Of course there’s good reasons for that. They’re cheaper and you don’t have to worry about the risk of contamination. But at the same time, it produces a lot of garbage.”
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said it’s important that AHS and independent operators involved in disposal are held to a high standard.
“There’s really strong safeguards in place for good reason and we can’t take this kind of disposal casually at all.”
Alberta oil refinery operating for years without provincial approval faces enforcement order
(Source: CBC News) A refinery near Slave Lake in northern Alberta is facing an enforcement order for operating without regulatory approval, 22 years after it began processing oil.
The Enerchem plant was never granted approval under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), according to the order issued June 20.
The order states that no approval “has been issued to any person for the construction, operation and reclamation of the plant,” in contravention of the act.
Under the conditions set out in the order, the oil fractionation plant, 250 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, can continue operating while the owner, Calgary-based AltaGas, seeks approval from the province.
Experts in environmental law say the infraction is troubling evidence of cracks in Alberta’s complex regulatory system and undermines its approvals process.
Nigel Bankes, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Calgary, said Alberta Environment needs to assure the public that the plant is in compliance and that other facilities are not operating without oversight.
“The idea of an significant industrial development operating without approval for years, it’s off the charts,” Bankes said.
“I would describe it as negligence.”
Bankes said allowing the company to continue operating, without a proper review, is problematic and assumes the site is in compliance with environmental guidelines.
“We don’t know that and we have no means of knowing that.”
According to Alberta Environment, the plant should have sought regulatory approval in 2011, a decade after it was constructed. But legal experts contend the site has been lacking the appropriate regulatory oversight since it began processing oil in 2001.
It isn’t clear how the infraction went undetected for years, or what environmental oversights were in place during the lapse.
The enforcement order, which expires in June 2024, says the owner must undertake a series of compliance conditions, including environmental monitoring for water, air, soil and emissions.
The order also outlines requirements for a reclamation plan, record-keeping, and monthly and annual reporting.
Jason Unger, executive director of Edmonton’s Environmental Law Centre, said the order calls into question the strength of Alberta’s regulatory system and Alberta Environment’s role as a watchdog for the industry.
He said no hearing was ever held to determine the overall impact of the operation, and that attempting to enforce oversight of environmental guidelines after the fact is ineffective.
“You have to question the diligence of compliance overall,” Unger said. “It’s problematic from a robust regulatory perspective in terms of managing risks and understanding what those risks are.”
The plant, about 10 kilometres north of the town of Slave Lake, relies on fractionation, the distillation process that oil refineries use to separate crude oil into more useful products.
It produces hydrocarbon fluids for fracturing and drilling of oil and gas wells, along with various consumer fuels including furnace fuel, diesel and specialized jet fuels.
The refinery was built in 2001. When the $9-million project was announced, the plant was expected to be on stream by November of that year, producing 6,000 barrels of refined products per day.
Government and company officials offer differing accounts of how approval for the refinery was overlooked, and for how long.
AltaGas says confusion surrounding who has regulatory jurisdiction over the operation is to blame. The company and Alberta Environment both point to historic changes in regulatory laws.
Experts say their justifications fail to account for a violation of legislation that has been in force for decades.
CBC News is awaiting comment from the federal government and Environment Canada.
An AltaGas year-end report issued in February 2021 said the refinery would be added to the AltaGas portfolio through the company’s acquisition of a controlling interest in Petrogas Energy Corp.
After AltaGas became the owner of the Slave Lake refinery in 2022, it informed the government that it had no provincial approval, according to Alberta Environment.
“As soon as we were alerted to the facility’s current operations, the department took action,” Tom McMillan, director of communications for Alberta Environment, said in a statement.
The ministry is working with the refinery to ensure it complies with the “strict conditions” of the order, McMillan said. He said “formalized and mandatory notification processes” are now in place to ensure regulatory oversight is maintained following legislative or operational changes.
“Operators of all facilities are accountable for ensuring that they are operating with all current regulatory approvals at any given time,” McMillan said.
“While the previous owner failed in this regard under EPEA, to the best of our knowledge, the company continued to comply with the various regulatory expectations for an oil fractionating facility under the Alberta Energy Regulator during this time.”
Asked by CBC if it ever monitored the plant, including its environmental impact, the AER confirmed that it does not regulate oil refineries. Under the EPEA, Alberta Environment is responsible for regulating oil refineries.
Alberta Environment said the refinery was originally authorized under the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, prior to construction in 2001. The board replaced that authorization with an industrial development permit the following year, Alberta Environment said.
After the Energy Resources Conservation Board replaced the EUB in 2008, the act was changed. In 2011, requirements for industrial development permits were removed from the legislation. When the permits were removed, the facility “was left without the approvals required for operation,” Alberta Environment said.
A spokesperson for AltaGas said the Slave Lake facility was in full compliance with existing regulations when it started operating in 2001.
“As regulations and regulatory bodies have changed since operations began, we have and will continue to work collaboratively with our regulators to ensure we continue to operate in compliance,” the company said.
“The Slave Lake facility was recently interpreted to be included within the definition of an oil refinery, which would place it under the jurisdiction of Alberta Environment and Protected Areas.”
Bankes said Alberta Environment’s reference to industrial development permits is an attempt to deflect blame. Repealing the permits did not alter the operation’s status in a material way, he said.
The permits were never intended to supersede the need for broader approval under the act, Bankes said.
The refinery should have always sought approval under the act, he said.
“The repeal of the development permit provisions of the act shouldn’t have created a gap in the environmental approvals process,” he said. “It should have been Alberta Environment all along.”
Alberta’s environmental protection act has been in place since 1992. The operation should have sought approval under that legislation before construction commenced, Bankes said.
“If you’re running a refinery, you’re presumably putting out some pretty nasty stuff into the atmosphere, so you’d need an air-quality approval and all sorts of things like that,” he said.
“The industrial development permits never, ever dealt with that aspect of an operation.”
Unger said the company’s reference to the plant being “recently interpreted” as an oil refinery also raises questions of accountability.
Under the EPEA, designated activities require approval and oil refineries have been on that list for decades.
The definition of an oil refinery — “a plant for manufacturing hydrocarbon products from oil, heavy oil, crude bitumen or synthetic crude oil” — has remained unchanged since 1996.
Unger said the fact the company has operated for so long without approval undermines the discretion of regulators to reject the project.
Much of the language in the enforcement order mimics the requirements of an operational approval document, he said.
“Perhaps more problematically, the monitoring and reporting and the emission standards that are embedded in the conditions of the enforcement order — we don’t know if those were ever complied with.”
Murray Kerik, reeve of the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River, said local government was not informed of the infraction. Council will contact Alberta Environment for further clarification about what went wrong, he said.
Kerik said his community is open to industry, and is not aware of any issues at the plant over its decades of operation, but it’s concerning that proper oversight was not in place.
“You hope they’re following all the rules and regulations. But is that not where Alberta Environment is supposed to be the watchdog?
“Somebody obviously dropped the ball.”
Introducing the 2023-2024 CLRA National Board
The Canadian Land Reclamation Association/Association canadienne de réhabilitation des sites dégradés (CLRA/ACRSD) Board is pleased to announce Kelly Zadko, Vice President Business Development at North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc. as our new President. Kelly will be leading the National Chapter and its Board of Directors to promote Canadian reclamation and remediation practitioners as world innovators and leaders in the environmental field.
We would also to welcome back Maria Kudienko to the CLRA as the Awards Committee Chair. Maria is a Professional Agrologist with over 20 years of environmental consulting experience for oil and gas, mining, forestry, transportation, and other industries. She has served on the CLRA Alberta Chapter Board since 2017. When her term ended, she remained a volunteer and a key member of the Technical Committee to organize the AGM until 2021.
Your CLRA/ACRSD Board of Directors for 2023-2024 are the following:
Thank you to our outgoing board members, Elissa Ferguson and Kevin Hunsche for their years of service with the CLRA. Elissa served as Treasurer with the Atlantic Chapter for 2 years and 4 years nationally. Kevin served as a Director with the Alberta Chapter for 6 years and 12 years nationally, with 5 years as the Awards Committee Chair.
New ESAA Member
ESAA welcomes the following new member. If you are not a member of ESAA you can join now via: https://esaa.org/join-esaa/
VAST Resource Solutions
304 Industrial Road G
Cranbrook, BC V1C 7J4
Phone: (877) 426-5300
David Struthers, Senior Agrologist / Environmental Scientist (Owner / Principal)
Based out of Cranbrook, B.C., VAST Resource Solutions is a diverse environmental, engineering, and forestry consulting company that values genuine relationships and offers an extensive range of technical abilities, skills, and knowledge. Our clients trust us to deliver comprehensive and integrated solutions that result in quality, scientifically sound project outcomes. We support a wide range of sectors throughout the Kootenay regions of BC and into western Alberta. We serve clients involved with mining, forestry, utilities, agriculture, infrastructure, real estate, government, First Nations, property development, clean energy, recreation and construction. Thanks to the diverse expertise of our 55+ staff of scientists, engineers, technicians, and foresters, as well as our extensive professional network and local knowledge, VAST has emerged as a first-choice advisor and regional expert in southeast BC, depended on to manage complex projects across multiple industries.
Upcoming Industry Events
ESAA Edmonton Mixer
August 1st, 2023
3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Town Square Brewing Co.
2919 Ellwood Dr SW, Edmonton
Join us for a networking event at Town Square Brewing Co. in Edmonton. Network with your fellow industry professionals. Hot and cold appetizers will be available. There will be a selection of Town Square beers available and non alcoholic beverages. Two drinks per person will be included.
Bring a co-worker, a client or a guest.
Registration is free and limited to 40 people.
Food and Beer Sponsorship Available.
To Sponsor or to RSVP, visit: http://beeid.org/74714faa72cc
RSVP by no later than July 28th, 2023
Watch for details in the coming weeks with information on mixers in Calgary, Lethbridge, Lloydminster and Grande Prairie.
ESAA Job Board
Check out the new improved ESAA Job Board. Members can post ads for free.
- Intermediate/Senior Environmental Specialist – Summit
- Environmental Specialist –
- Environmental Scientist or Geologist –
- Manager, EPR Compliance –
- Manager, EPR Operations & Change Optimization –
- Environmental Engineers/Scientists/Technologists Edmonton, Alberta – Nichols Environmental (Canada) Ltd.
- Environmental Engineers/Scientists/Technologists, Calgary, Alberta – Nichols Environmental (Canada) Ltd.
- Environmental Professional / Project Manager – Ecoventure Inc.
- INTERMEDIATE ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST –
- SENIOR ECOLOGIST –