The Sherwood Park & District Chamber of Commerce was very pleased to host Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) President & CEO Laurie Pushor for a special meet and greet in August. Alberta energy industry representatives were invited to attend and get to know the leader of the AER, and were given the opportunity for questions and answers. We learned more about the AER’s purview, their historical challenges and current direction, and focuses on cleaning up inactive wells, as well as supporting alternative energy.
Prior to joining the AER, Laurie Pushor served as Deputy Minister for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources for two years, from 2018 until 2020. He served as the Deputy Minister for the former Ministry of the Economy from 2014 to 2018, and served four years as Chief of Staff for several government departments in Saskatchewan, including Social Services, Energy, and Health.
According to the Alberta Energy Regulator’s website: “The AER provides for the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while securing their economic benefits for all Albertans (AER, 2021).” The AER is responsible for regulating energy infrastructure, including wells, pipelines, processing plants and facilities, bitumen upgraders, coal mines, and more as they develop resources across the province of Alberta. The AER reviews applications for proposed new energy developments, oversees all energy resource activities, inspects companies and holds companies to account when they are not in compliance with industry standards (AER, 2021).
Alberta’s Energy Regulator recognizes that timely application approvals are necessary, and so they have been implementing better processes that have cut approval times in half, and improved routine standards by 99%. This will help streamline projects and allow businesses a better environment to focus on their operation and will ultimately impact the economy in a positive manner.
Source of Truth
Laurie described how the AER seeks to be the “source of truth” for energy-related data under their purview. Of special interest to many is data around flaring and water usage, and the AER is working to be the place for Albertans to look for this information. As they move forward in their quest to be the best place for the public to look for Albertan energy data, the energy regulator is working on a new web dashboard for key metrics so that important information is available for quick and easy access.
A Focus on End of Life Obligations
“…when a company applies for an energy development project—regardless of the project’s size or kind—it must have a plan in place to reclaim the site once the project is over.” (AER, 2021)
Alberta has over 95,000 well sites that are inactive and need to be reclaimed. These well sites cause issues for landowners, and the environment, and are at times very costly to clean up. Industry is responsible of “end-of-life obligations”, however, there are many sites are held by companies that are no longer able to afford to remediate. This is a complex issue that requires government and industry to work together to solve.
The AER is placing a special focus on end-of-life obligations by expanding and hancing the tools it has. Mr Pushor told us that increased measures are coming to work with companies that have assets that will have an end of life to ensure that site reclamation occurs. One example is that actions will be taken from the regulator if they determine that a company with these kinds of assets is showing financial instability.
(For more on the Sherwood Park & District Chamber of Commerce policy proposal for improved well reclamation, see here.)
Support for Alternative Energy
While energy in Alberta has traditionally focused on oil and gas, this is has changed much in recent years with added focus on alternative energy sources such as geothermal and lithium.
Geothermal energy is a way of producing heat energy from the earth’s core and the technology holds incredible potential. Right here in Strathcona County, innovative company GSS Energy is working on some innovative solutions. The Government of Alberta has introduced (but not yet proclaimed) Bill 36: Geothermal Resource Development Act which gives the AER “the authority to regulate the safe, efficient, and responsible development of Alberta’s geothermal resources (AER, 2021).”
Lithium is also of interest, both globally, and right here in Alberta. Normally, lithium is extracted through hard-rock mining, or large evaporation ponds. E3 Metals is an Albertan company that is focused on Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE), a new method taking advantage of previously-used oil wells found in the province to “mine” lithium. For more on Lithium in Alberta, please read https://sherwoodparkchamber.com/diversifying-albertas-economy-an-e3-metals-update/.
The AER has an added focus on these alternative energy sources, and is working to be able to properly regulate and support these up-and-coming industries. If you are a geothermal company, you can learn more about AER work being done here: https://www.aer.ca/regulating-development/rules-and-directives/bulletins/bulletin-2021-31. For more on Geothermal work being done in Strathcona County, please visit https://gssenergy.ca/.
Building Relationships & Moving the Organization Forward.
Laurie was not shy to mention historical challenges at the AER, but also that he is working hard to move the organization forward, by streamlining approval times, by improving reclamation rates, and, by aiming to become the source of truth for important industry data.
We were very pleased to be able to host the AER for this special Meet & Greet and look forward to ways to collaborating with the AER moving forward. For more on the AER, please see this overview.
Author: John Perozok, Policy Analyst at the Sherwood Park & District Chamber of Commerce.