NDP blasts energy pilot project that would see fracking regulations reduced – Says government plan undermines environmental regime

By Marty Klinkenberg, Edmonton Journal June 12, 2014

EDMONTON – Alberta’s NDP is concerned that the provincial government is working with oil and gas executives to reduce regulations related to the controversial process of fracking.

A government document obtained by the NDP shows Alberta’s Energy Regulator is scheduled to meet next week with industry officials to discuss a pilot project that will reduce regulations and streamline the application process for fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas development.

The information session on June 17 is meant to brief industry representatives on regulations that will be tested in the Fox Creek area beginning in September. Representatives from Alberta’s Environment and Energy departments will also attend the meeting, the document shows.

“At the same time government is selling itself as being a steward of the environment, it is working behind closed doors to undermine the integrity of our environmental regime,” NDP critic Rachel Notley said Thursday. “It is the type of game-playing you expect from a tired, 40-year-old government that is not going to change.

“Making major changes to regulations that govern fracking shouldn’t be done behind closed doors with a bunch of industry insiders, it should happen in public. Albertans deserve better than this.”

Bob Curran, a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator, said the regulations on trial will apply only to development in the Fox Creek area, site of a geological formation estimated to contain 443 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 61.7 billion barrels of oil.

“Let’s be clear: this is a draft for a pilot, brought about predominantly by landowner concerns that we have heard about for years,” Curran said in an email. “A pilot project, by definition, is designed to test draft regulations.

“We are not changing the regulations, nor are we proposing changes at this time. We are putting together a pilot project. That is all.”

According to the document obtained by the NDP, a final version of the regulations under review is scheduled to be released on June 27.

A recent draft of the pilot project describes it as “the start of a change in the way that the AER regulates the energy sector.”

The regulations being tested “are intended to reduce the burden placed on industry” and “manage risks to achieve play-based objectives and Government of Alberta policy outcomes.”

The regulations to be tested propose a single application process that authorizes activities carried out over the lifetime of a project, and tasks approval-holders with reporting requirements.

“Overall the intent (of the approach) is orderly and responsible development,” the draft says.

Curran said if government decides to implement regulatory changes based on the pilot project, the proposed changes will be made public and an opportunity will be provided for feedback.

Notley believes government has already made up its mind, however.

“If the pilot project is successful, it will serve as a template for future development,” she said. “There is no question the rules that will govern this type of thing are already a long way down the road.”

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