15-minute approvals: Alberta plans to automate licences for new oil and gas drilling

“We’ve seen the announcements about fast-tracking [licences] and saving money, but where are the systems that incorporate the science and data into these automated decisions, which they’ve promised for years?” — Nikki Way, a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute

Pumpjacks Alberta wheatfield
Under a new system, the Alberta Energy Regulator will approve the vast majority of applications to drill for oil and gas within minutes via an automated process, according to documents obtained by The Narwhal. Photo: Shutterstock

Lobbying records obtained by The Narwhal show that as Alberta’s new government has pledged a ‘rapid acceleration of approvals,’ the province’s energy regulator has been moving ahead with plans that mean the vast majority of new wells will be approved by a computer in a matter of minutes

The Alberta Energy Regulator confirmed to The Narwhal by e-mail that it expects to begin implementing automated approval for routine well licences later this year, though lobbying records indicate the system could be rolled out as early as next month.

With the change, staff will no longer review most applications from companies seeking to drill a new oil or gas well.

In lobbying records obtained by The Narwhal through a freedom of information request, Richard Wong, manager of operations with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said the association anticipates 90 per cent of routine well applications could soon be automatically approved by OneStop, the online tool used to submit requests for permits and licences to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

The Narwhal was charged $643.95 by the Alberta Energy Regulator — an industry-funded corporation in charge of overseeing Alberta’s energy industry — to access the documents. The fee was paid by readers who donated specifically to cover these costs.

When asked for details, CAPP told The Narwhal by email that these approvals refer to applications that are “anticipated to be low-risk and, as such, the approval of each of those applications would be expedited.”

Over the past year, concerns have been raised about industry’s ability to pay for the cleanup of the hundreds of thousands of wells already drilled in the province, with internal estimates pegging the bill at $100 billion. MORE


Canada bans deep-sea mining, oil and gas drilling in marine protected areas

The decision, which also prevents waste dumping and bottom trawling, helps inch Canada closer to its international commitment to protect 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020

Mackenzie River Delta

After two years of advocacy and 70,000 letters sent, conservation organizations across Canada are celebrating the federal government’s decision to prohibit all oil and gas activities in marine protected areas.

“The public played a really big role in this change,” said Stephanie Hewson, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, in an interview with The Narwhal.

Marine protected areas — known as MPAs — are effectively national parks of the oceans, establishing strict guidelines about what kind of activities can occur in the ecologically sensitive regions. In 2010, Canada signed onto the Aichi Convention to protect biodiversity and the world’s ecosystems, committing to protect 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

The new rules will apply to all marine protected areas in Canada, including marine conservation and marine national wildlife areas, but the greatest effect will be felt in Marine Protected Areas managed under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — most especially in the Laurentian Channel.

Proposed regulations published in June 2017 for the Laurentian Channel MPA — located between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland — allowed for extensive oil and gas exploration and production.

An access to information request filed by The Narwhal revealed that a close relationship between the oil industry and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans may have contributed to that proposal.

But on Tuesday, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson announced that four industrial activities — oil and gas, mining, waste dumping and bottom trawling — would be banned in all new marine protected areas, starting with the Laurentian Channel.

This fulfilled recommendations made by a national advisory panel that filed its final report in September 2018.