New legislation out of Alberta aims to make the energy industry more competitive with other regions and eliminate duplication of work among departments by creating a “one-window approach” to energy regulations, said the province’s energy minister.
The first reading of Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act, occurred October 24, 2012. Once in force, it would streamline legislation related to land and water Acts, energy resources, and environmental protection by using a single regulator to oversee future oil, gas, oil sands and coal development in the province.
"We are creating a one-window approach to energy regulations,” Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes told reporters in Calgary after the Act was introduced in the Alberta Legislature.
“If you're trying to start a large oil sands plant in northeastern Alberta there can be a couple of hundred applications you have to fill out," Hughes added. "Today, it's a single window."
The single entity would be called the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). It was one of six recommendations handed down in January 2011 by a government committee trying to reduce the time and money it takes for companies seeking approvals for oil, natural gas, oil sands and coal projects.
The regulator will be governed by a board of directors, with a chief executive officer at the helm. It is expected to be operational by June 2013.
Highlights of the legislation include higher fines for individuals and companies who break the law, voluntary registry for landowners to register enforceable private surface agreements and more flexibility to receive and process applications.
The manager of operations in Alberta for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has publicly called the legislation a “major milestone”.
During Bill 2’s second reading on the evening of October 31, 2012, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, leader of the Opposition, was quick to throw her party’s support behind the new Act.
In the Alberta Legislature, Smith quoted from the June 2012 Global Petroleum Survey by The Fraser Institute. While the report praised Saskatchewan, it criticized Alberta.
“Let me tell you what they say about another jurisdiction: ‘constantly shifting regulatory and approval framework, high degree of government bureaucracy, inefficient oil well site inspection procedures’. And the jurisdiction they’re talking about is Alberta,” Smith said October 31, 2012, in the House.
Smith went on to describe the nightmare experience of an Albertan company (Crescent Point) that tried to remove the word “trust” from the legal description of its well site. It took nine months to complete the request in Alberta, Smith said, but just two hours for a similar company in Saskatchewan.
“While it was stuck in that limbo land, there were no completions that they could do, there was no additional development they could do, it was earning no revenue, and they were not able to do any work on it,” Smith told the House.
Smith raised concerns, however, saying that the new legislation is a kind of “Franken-bill”.
“It’s bringing in all of the different elements of a variety of different pieces of legislation, squashing them together, and hoping that by naming it under a single regulatory agency, somehow it’s going to solve the many problems, only a few of which I just identified here,” Smith told the House.
Provincial officials say Alberta's environment legislation will remain as stringent as it did before.
----This article originally appeared on EcoLog.com on November 2, 2012 ---