In the past year, Alberta has undergone unprecedented environmental regulatory reform impacting its energy sector.
On June 17, 2013, the majority of the Responsible Energy Development Act ("REDA") was proclaimed in force, creating the Alberta Energy Regulator (the "AER"). Under REDA, the AER will ultimately assume specified regulatory functions from the Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Energy, with respect to upstream oil, gas, oil sands and coal development. The appointment of a single energy regulator had been one of six recommendations made by the provincially appointed Regulatory Enhancement Task Force, with a view of improving Alberta’s investment attractiveness for the development of its energy resources. The appointment of the single regulator, which is consistent with recent parallel federal regulatory streamlining initiatives, results in one application, one review and one decision.
Previously, on September 1, 2012, the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan ("LARP") came into force. Under LARP, which is the first of seven regional plans to be introduced in Alberta, consideration must be given to the combined impacts of existing and future activities in Alberta’s oil sands, in deciding whether to grant regulatory project development approvals. Under LARP, environmentally sensitive areas are identified and protected, while future development is regulated with the objective of ensuring that it occurs in an environmentally responsible manner.
Building on LARP, on October 17, 2012, the Alberta Government announced the establishment of a new arm’s length environmental monitoring agency, the Alberta Environmental Management Agency (the "Agency"). The first of its kind in Canada, the Agency will utilize a science-based approach to monitor, evaluate and report on land, air, water and biodiversity. The intention is that the data, which will be collected initially from the Lower Athabasca Region, will be scientifically credible, accessible and open.
As a result of these reforms, the level of provincial government involvement in regulatory decision making for oil and gas project development appears to be on the rise. Among the issues to be addressed is identifying and maintaining the delicate balance between environmental responsibility and resource development.