Environmental monitoring and reporting of Alberta’s oil and gas sites will resume July 15, following a temporary suspension blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Alberta Energy Regulator and provincial government announced within minutes of each other Tuesday that they were both repealing orders that allowed oil and gas producers to suspend a swath of requirements around environmental protections and reporting, including programs that monitor soil, water, wildlife, firebreaks and greenhouse gas emissions.
Alberta’s public health emergency lifted on June 15. Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said in a statement Tuesday that means industry can resume business while keeping communities and employees safe.
The regulator’s decision to suspend some facets of environmental monitoring came at the urging of industry, which argued it could not undergo the largely outdoor activities while complying with public-health directives. That was as oil sands sites remained operational, declared an essential service by the province.
The regulator said at the time the temporary suspension was at a low risk to cause short- or long-term consequences.
But the move drew the ire of three northern Alberta First Nations. The Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation argued in an appeal to the regulator’s internal review body that the suspension “fails to come close” to being a reasonable decision.
The issue also became a political hot potato, with Alberta’s Opposition Leader Rachel Notley labelling the directive “utterly idiotic” and calling for the resignation of AER head Laurie Pushor.
In a statement Tuesday, the AER said the move to suspend monitoring was necessary to protect the public and ensure worker health and safety, but it’s now moving back to normal regulatory processes.
It also said it “will be reaching out to Indigenous communities and stakeholders to discuss how we can better work together.”
In a statement Tuesday, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the suspensions were being lifted earlier than anticipated.
“The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic required us to operate under an abundance of caution during the height of the health emergency. While this pause was of low risk, it is also important that we maintain full confidence in the rigour of our regulatory system and return to all regular reporting activities as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said.
“While we expect precautionary measures to be taken, we have no doubt that industry is more than capable of adapting to these challenges.”
Under the ministerial orders handed down in May, Alberta Environment and Parks also authorized a three-month extension to industry to submit regulatory reports for emissions reduction achievements and renewable fuel operator compliance. Those reports are now due June 30.
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