Drilling issue hits home in other Alta. cities

By Mabell, Dave on October 19, 2013.

Dave Mabell


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As your plane pulls up to the Calgary terminal, you realize you’re in oil country.

The bobbing pumpjack near the taxiway – like the skyscrapers downtown – lets everyone know Alberta is the home of Canada’s lucrative energy industry.

For some city residents, however, that can become far too “close to home.” Citizens of northwest Calgary rose up in opposition to an oil well proposed for their neighbourhood. Soon, West Lethbridge residents could find themselves in the same situation.

A Calgary company, Goldenkey Oil Inc., has announced plans to drill several exploration wells west of Copperwood and The Crossings. If it receives regulatory approval, work could begin in March.

The company has given Oct. 24 as the date for a public information session in Lethbridge, but no location or time has been confirmed.

City council has gone on record in opposition to any energy drilling within Lethbridge city limits – but provincial authorities have the final say. Other cities across Alberta have made a variety of responses when they, too, have faced similar challenges.

In Calgary, the jury is still out on whether homeowners have any rights in the matter. Paul Leong, the city’s oil and gas liaison manager, says residents of the Rocky Ridge neighbourhood are still awaiting the results of an appeal.

When they heard about plans for an exploration well just 100 metres from their local shops several years ago, he says citizens registered their opposition with the province’s energy regulator. The city went on record in opposition as well.

When the company received the agency’s approval – some are denied – the residents launched an appeal. They’re heard by the Alberta Court of Appeal, with its decisions based on questions or jurisdiction or law.

(A spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator reports that 5,417 of the 36,382 drilling applications received last year were denied, withdrawn or officially closed. Just seven public hearings were held and five “leave to appeal” applications filed after decisions were rendered.)

In Calgary meanwhile, Leong says, the applicant is looking for a different site for its well. No further drilling applications involving land inside the city have been filed, he adds.

As with Lethbridge, the sustainable development manager in Edmonton says city council there has recorded its opposition to oil and gas drilling inside city limits by creating an urban drilling policy. But David Holehouse concedes compliance is voluntary.

“We have no jurisdiction over oil or gas drilling,” he points out.

But Holehouse says the province’s energy minister, Ken Hughes, promised to review the government’s acceptance of urban drilling, in response to constituents’ concerns raised by a Calgary Conservative MLA earlier this year.

In Lethbridge, New Democrat leader Brian Mason called on local MLAs to speak out on the issue after the Goldenkey project was announced. But in response, Lethbridge West MLA Greg Weadick neither supported nor opposed drilling in his riding.

Abandoned oil wells are part of the story in Red Deer, says urban planner Jim Benum. As in Edmonton, most were drilled and depleted before the land was annexed to the city. But one company has recently challenged his city’s opposition to new wells, he adds.

Grande Prairie may also have to deal with abandoned wells. Dave Olinger, the city’s communications director, says city council has launched an annexation initiative to provide more industrial land. Until provincial officials approve, he says, city planners might not have detailed information on wells drilled outside city limits over the years.