Common ground

Discuss regulation of the energy sector with industry and environmental groups, and you wouldn’t expect a consensus.

Discuss regulation of the energy sector with industry and environmental groups, and you wouldn’t expect a consensus.

But Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said that’s what he’s observed as a member of the provincial Regulatory Enhancement Task Force, which was struck in March to review Alberta’s regulatory system for oil and gas production and to recommend ways to make it more efficient and timely, and less complex.

Chaired by Drayton Valley-Calmar MLA Diana McQueen, with Livingstone-Macleod MLA Evan Berger also involved, the task force has met with representatives of industry, environmental groups, land owners, municipalities, government employees and others.

“The one thing that struck me is I did not expect that all of the stakeholders would express an interest in reducing the complexity of navigating the regulatory system,” said Dallas.

Industry complained that the current framework is cumbersome and unpredictable with respect to timelines; environmental groups said it’s difficult to determine when and how to intervene in the approval process.

While their perspectives differ, they agree that the system needs to be simplified.

“That is the one commonality that surprised me quite a bit,” said Dallas.

The task force released a progress report three weeks ago that identified key issues and barriers, and described how regulatory agencies have already identified and implemented some improvements.

But consultation with interest groups continues, with the task force planning to gather these together in the fall for further discussion, said Dallas.

Feedback has also been solicited online from anyone interested in commenting on the regulatory system (www.energy.alberta.ca/Initiatives/RegulatoryEnhancement.asp).

“The bulk of this work continues on until we file the final report in December,” said Dallas.

Members of the oil and gas sector have ample opportunity to express their views, he said, thanks to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers organizing committees to focus on specific aspects of the industry.

“Pretty much everyone who wants to participate on one of those industry-based committees through CAPP is doing so and is assembling information for our (task force’s) review.”

Dallas stressed that their mandate is to find ways to improve the efficiency of the regulatory system — not to diminish existing standards of environmental protection and public health and safety.

He added that despite the improvements already initiated and identified in the progress report, the road to change will be a “multi-year project.”

Dallas said his involvement in the process has left him optimistic about the outlook for the province’s oil and gas sector, despite setbacks suffered during the recent economic downturn.

“The oil industry in Alberta is led by a resilient group and they are looking forward, not backward,” he said.

They see opportunities on the horizon, continued Dallas, and are encouraged by the recent changes to the province’s royalty structure and its commitment to ease regulatory burdens.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com