Alberta is making a push to mine various minerals buried beneath the province, releasing a new strategy and rejigging regulations in the hope it can be a major player in the production and supply of elements needed to develop everything from electric-vehicle fuel cells to renewable-power infrastructure and cellphones.
The plan, announced Thursday, is twofold: Pull oversight of the mineral mining sector under the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and implement a new provincial strategy and action plan to help meet global demand for lithium, uranium, vanadium, rare-earth elements, potash and diamonds.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Thursday various sectors are scrambling to secure critical and rare-earth minerals in response to technological advancements, and the global transformation to a low-carbon economy.
And between Alberta’s “vast untapped geological potential,” experienced workforce and track record in resource development, she believes the province is well placed to get in on the action.
“This is ... a new and emerging opportunity over the last five, six years,” Ms. Savage said.
“I don’t think that many people were talking about lithium 20 years ago. They weren’t talking about the need for cobalt and nickel for batteries. They weren’t talking about vanadium for energy storage.”
Regulatory oversight of mineral production in Alberta is currently split among several entities.
Pulling minerals under the umbrella of Alberta’s regulator requires a legislative change, and the government tabled a bill to that effect on Thursday. If passed, it will give the AER the power to regulate mineral resources and ensure their responsible development – similar to what it does now with oil and gas.
The AER was given some extra cash in the last budget to help cover the costs of establishing mineral regulations, Ms. Savage said, and the government will consider future funding through industry levies and application fees.
Ms. Savage said the changes would provide clarity and certainty for industry and investors, ensure responsible resource development and protect the best interests of Albertans.
“We’re setting out the framework so that we can go out and hustle, and attract this investment and talk to investors,” she said.
Alberta also plans to hammer out liability management rules for minerals to avoid a problem like the growing number of inactive and orphaned oil and gas wells in the province.
“We can never let that happen in critical and rare-earth minerals,” Ms. Savage said.
New minerals regulations will cover production via waste or byproducts, such as tailings ponds or through the brine used in oil and gas wells. The government is also going to revisit the royalties paid on minerals mined in Alberta.
Various minerals are scattered throughout the province, including lithium, titanium, zinc and rare-earth elements.
Officials told reporters during a technical briefing Thursday morning that Alberta has existing capacity to refine minerals, including plants that already process nickel, cobalt and magnesium, yet no metallic mineral mines currently operate in the province.
Adam Legge, the president of the Business Council of Alberta, said Alberta can be a meaningful player in the minerals sector “if we act now to secure a foothold in the global market.”
“A modern minerals strategy for responsible development will help diversify our economy while expanding our natural resources industries in a low-carbon future,” he said.
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