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COVID-19 prompts suspension of Alberta oil and gas industry monitoring programs

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 5/8/2020 2:52:00 PM

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has suspended two monitoring requirements found in Directive 058: Oilfield Waste Management Requirements for the Upstream Petroleum Industry. Also suspended are an annual testing requirement found in Interim Directive 2003-01 and requirements to hold emergency response exercises and submit updates to emergency response plans in Directive 071: Emergency Preparedness and Response Requirements for the Petroleum Industry.

The AER is also suspending several monitoring requirements found in Approvals issued to oil sands operators. In a series of decisions issued from April 29, 2020 onward, Approvals have been amended for Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Fort Hills Energy Corporation, and Imperial Oil Resources Limited.

Earlier in April 2020, the AER temporarily suspended reporting requirements that affect the energy industry. That suspension attracted only modest criticism because the AER made clear that data gathering would still be required. “This direction does not affect monitoring requirements, which must continue to be met,” it stated in Bulletin 2020-10.

The suspension of monitoring requirements is another matter, however.

“While we recognize the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the suspension of monitoring activities that are integral to the safe operation of these facilities, no matter how temporary, is a matter of grave concern for our Nation,” said Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in a statement released May 5, 2020. Environmental monitoring should never be optional, he added.

The suspensions cite “legitimate concerns” raised by the oil sands operators “about [their] ability to meet monitoring requirements contained in the Approvals while complying with the Covid-19 Orders and Guidelines.”

The suspensions involve surface and groundwater testing, volatile organic compounds monitoring, reduced sulphur compound monitoring, stack testing, fugitive emissions leak detection and repair conducted by third parties, various audits and verifications, including third-party audits, and a range of wildlife monitoring programs.

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