The Jason Kenney government is under attack for killing fossil sector jobs in the midst of a brutal recession, after the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suspended most environmental monitoring for the province’s oil and gas producers.
NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley “says if the United Conservative premier doesn’t reverse the decision—which the regulator says was made because of the COVID-19 pandemic—it will cost jobs in the sector, as international investors shy away from an industry increasingly seen as an environmental outlier,” The Canadian Press reports.
The announcement turned last Wednesday into “a very bad day for people who care about our air, land, and water,” Notley said Friday. “The only people it was worse for were the people in Alberta who care about maintaining any kind of job or economic security within the oil and gas sector. It’s Albertans who need the jobs in that sector who will pay the price.”
The regulatory rollback was massive, and CP notes that most of the decisions have no sunset date. “Companies no longer have to monitor fumes released by burning, or look for and repair leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas,” the news agency writes. “Surface water no longer needs to be tested, unless it escapes into the environment—and that water no longer needs to be tested in a lab.”
As well, “most soil and groundwater monitoring is gone. In-situ oilsands operations no longer have to do wildlife, reclamation, and wetland monitoring, including research.”
AER spokesperson Shawn Roth told the Globe and Mail the rollbacks will have a low impact on environmental and public safety. “We have only provided temporary measures that are supported by technical experts, do not impact the AER’s ability to fulfill its mandate, and are a low risk to have short- or long-term impacts,” he wrote in an email.
But “Shaun Fluker, a University of Calgary professor of resource law, said the list of exemptions is similar to the long-time wish list of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers,” the Globe writes. “He suggested the pandemic is being used as an excuse to grant concessions.”
AER Vice President Martin Foy said the decision was made to protect inspectors and the small communities they would have to visit. CP says Notley just scoffed at that, adding that poor environmental regulation had driven mega-investors like Blackrock and Norges Bank to abandon the province.
“The idea that we can force workers to work elbow-to-elbow at packing plants, have servers walk through restaurants with 50 people in them, but somehow it’s unsafe for environmental monitoring experts to go out and test water and air?” she said. “It’s the most ridiculous assertion I’ve ever heard.”
CP notes that investment advisors in U.S.-based Morningstar reached a similar conclusion last week. “The Alberta government has become the oilpatch’s own worst enemy by weakening environmental monitoring and oversight to the extent that foreign investors and foreign companies alike face reputational risks by investing in oilsands companies and projects,” said analyst Jackie Cook.
The news of the rollbacks arrived about a week after Alberta announced it was tightening its methane regulations, hoping to bring them into line with federal rules. A final equivalency agreement would allow the province to take back regulatory control over the climate-busting greenhouse gas.
“The changes appear to end a years-long tussle over the regulations,” the Globe and Mail wrote at the time. “Alberta has said a misunderstanding of its modelling was to blame for Ottawa believing the regulations fell short, while the federal government said substantive changes were needed to bring the regulations up to standard. Ottawa’s goal is to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.”