Alberta’s Opposition leader Rachel Notley called for the head of the province’s energy regulator to resign over the suspension of monitoring in the oil patch, in a June 8, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta’s Opposition leader Rachel Notley called for the head of the province’s energy regulator to resign over the suspension of monitoring in the oil patch, in a June 8, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta First Nations appeal suspension of environmental monitoring in oilpatch

EDMONTON — Three northern Alberta First Nations are asking to appeal the province’s suspension of environmental monitoring in the oilpatch because it “fails to come close” to being a reasonable decision.

Alberta’s Opposition leader called on Monday for the head of the province’s energy regulator to resign over the suspensions.

“They should end (Laurie) Pushor’s contract,” Rachel Notley said Monday.

“We’ve gone from having a world-class monitoring agency and we’ve turned it into a backroom, deal-making agency in the course of just a few months.”

The Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort McKay First Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation have filed their request to the regulator’s internal review body. The Alberta Energy Regulator made the decision earlier this spring to suspend monitoring in what it said was an attempt to keep workers and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Companies no longer have to monitor fumes released by burning, or look for and repair leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Surface water need no longer be tested, unless it escapes into the environment.

Most soil and groundwater monitoring is gone. In-situ oilsands operations no longer have to conduct any wildlife monitoring or research. Reclamation and wetland monitoring is also suspended.

Although some operations must resume Sept. 30, most suspensions have no end date.

“There was no consultation. There was no notification of any kind,” said Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree. ”We were all quite shocked and quite upset.”

The appeal argues that the suspensions were made without any rationale linking specific activities to COVID-19 risks and despite work continuing at energy facilities. It points out the hold on monitoring came as Alberta was starting to ease its lockdown and weeks after the province declared a state of emergency over the pandemic.

An email from the regulator states the ministerial order indicates the suspensions lapse 60 days after the state of public health emergency ends, or August 15, 2020, whichever is sooner.

“Industry has estimated that approximately 98 per cent of requirements remain in place. All essential environmental monitoring continues, and all requirements to monitor and report emergency events remain in place,” the statement from AER spokeswoman Cara Tobin said.

The appeal alleges the move was made at the urging of industry without any attempt to hear from anyone else involved.

“The long-term consequences of this disregard for the separation between the regulator and the regulated are highly troubling,” says the appeal.

“(They are) to allow proponents to effectively trigger AER decisions … in a way that circumvents the AER’s application process (and) undermines the integrity of the entire statutory regime for energy development in the province.”

Tobin, however, noted the decisions on which requirements to suspend were based on assessments by technical experts and were “carefully chosen to address the conflicts between public health orders and AER requirements.”

Notley said Pushor, who took over the agency after its previous head left under a cloud of financial wrongdoing, is too close to the Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government to be an independent regulator.

“There’s no question that Pushor is an extension of Kenney’s UCP agenda. They’re one and the same.”

She said consulting with First Nations affected by a regulatory decision should be “instinctive” by now.

“They walked through the looking glass into a world that’s 25 years old.”

Lepine said First Nations still haven’t been given any explanation of how the province will track environmental impacts during the suspension.

Monitoring is one of the conditions under which companies are granted access to the land, Lepine noted.

As well, Canada has made international promises to increase monitoring of Wood Buffalo National Park downstream of the oilsands, and the government’s decision may break those promises, Lepine said.

She said no information has been forthcoming about the impact of the suspensions on the quality of long-term monitoring.

“Was there an assessment done to evaluate this decision?” Lepine asked.

Tobin said Alberta’s long-term environmental information systems would be maintained.

“These programs collect data over decades and are able to accommodate some breaks in collection and still allow us to assess changes in the environment,” Tobin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020.

oil and gas

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer mayor urges that mask wearing in public indoor places start immediately

We must protect hospital capacity and each other, says Tara Veer

Lynne McConnell, a Red Deer single mom who runs a delivery company, is left without a car for her business after her vehicle was stolen twice in about 48 hours. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Masks were made mandatory in any workplace setting across Alberta as the premier introduced sweeping measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)
Kenney declares state of public health emergency as COVID-19 cases rise

High schools shift to online learning, businesses face new restrictions

The tournament was cancelled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Image courtesy of WHL)
2020 WHL Cup cancelled

A tournament featuring the top under 16 male hockey prospects in Western… Continue reading

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER, 7  - Susan Delacourt
Logo headshots of Toronto Star staff shot in Star studio.
December 7, 2015
Opinion: Don’t blame Trump for vaccine wait

Canadians will be getting COVID-19 vaccinations after Americans, Justin Trudeau has admitted,… Continue reading

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) brings the ball up court against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) during the first half of NBA basketball action in Toronto on January 28, 2020. The Raptors officially annoucned that VanVleet has agreed to a multi-year contract with the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch waves to the crowd before an MLS soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Cincinnati on March 17, 2019. Canadian Premier League team FC Edmonton has hired Koch as head coach and director of football operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo
FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Most Read