Critics condemn Alberta’s new energy regulator

 By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal May 2, 2013

EDMONTON – Rural landowners joined a northern First Nation this week in calling for the removal of former oil executive Gerry Protti recently appointed head of the new agency that will regulate oil, gas and coal development.

Protti, a former executive with Encana, is also a founding member of the industry’s lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Those factors raise serious concerns, some farmers and ranchers says.

“How can anyone have faith they’ll get a fair shake when the new chair couldn’t be more of oil industry insider?” asked Don Best of the Alberta Surface Rights Group and the United Landowners of Alberta.

He fears the rights of landowners will be disregarded.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation raised similar concerns earlier this week. They suggested Protti’s history promoting the energy industry makes him a poor choice as head of the new regulator which also has environmental responsibilities.

“We question his ability to chair the Alberta Energy Regulator with transparency and accountability,” given his corporate credentials and his years as a lobbyist for the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, Chief Allan Adam said.

With three weeks to go until the Alberta Energy Regulatory takes over from the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the government has yet to announce the remaining board appointments.

So far, there’s no one with expertise in land issues, said Keith Wilson, a lawyer specializing in landowner rights.

Earlier this week, Energy Minister Ken Hughes appointed Jim Ellis, a former deputy minister in environment and energy, to work under Protti. That’s not the balance landowners are looking for, Wilson said.

Under the new regulator, land owners lose their statutory rights to get a hearing, he said, adding he’s not convinced the new agency will function properly. For decades, the ERCB and Alberta Environment have conduct their investigations differently and it’s unclear which system will prevail.

“The goal of streamlining regulation is in everybody’s interest,” Wilson said.

“But what they are really doing is away the public interest mandate in making approvals of energy projects.”

How do you judge the competing interests of landowners, industry and the environmental concerns? he asked.

The energy regulator will provide one-stop shopping for oil companies to get permits for new projects. The agency will take over from Alberta Environment in issuing environmental and water permits as well as enforcement of environment laws.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal