EUB: World-Class Regulator, ‘Effective and Comprehensive’

EUB: World-Class Regulator, ‘Effective and Comprehensive’ by Tom Neufeld, September – October Issue Enviroline vol16, 2007
More than 400 years ago, the French Renaissance thinker Michel de Montaigne penned the words: “He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.” The merits of Montaigne’s wisdom became evident when I read an opinion piece by Andrew Nikiforuk. Nikiforuk was critical of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB), slamming EUB staff as “faceless” and “without chests” who perpetuate “insanity” and “abuse” of rural Albertans.

As Alberta’s energy regulator, we welcome scrutiny of our policies and decisions. But we – and Nikiforuk – owe it to Albertans to make sure the information we provide them is accurate. That is why it is so important
to address Nikiforuk’s assertions. First, he states the EUB has “no plan and no policy” when it comes to sour gas regulation in Alberta. Nowhere does he mention the EUB’s ongoing Public Safety & Sour Gas initiative. In 2000, the EUB established a world-class 22-member panel of medical, academic, business and community leaders to review and assess sour gas development in Alberta. The committee concluded that Alberta had an effective and comprehensive oil and gas regulatory system. They also presented the EUB with 87 recommendations to improve sour gas public health and safety. They focused on health effects and sour gas research, development planning and approval, sour gas operations, emergency preparedness, information and consultation. To date, 56 of the recommendations have been completed and the remaining recommendations will be finished soon.

The article then states the EUB wouldn’t “bat an eyelash when it comes to expropriating property rights or the security of ordinary citizens.” This claim is wholly repugnant.

Nikiforuk goes on to write the EUB expects “ordinary Albertans to do its own police work” of the energy industry. In 2004, EUB staff inspected more than 15,000 energy facilities. They suspended 118 energy facilities
and operations that did not meet our rigorous rules and regulations, and the EUB has suspended 734 energy facilities and operations in Alberta since 2000.

EUB staff responded to every one of the 850 public complaints about energy facilities that were registered with us in 2004.   Last year, the energy industry achieved a 98 per cent compliance rate with major EUB regulations,
a remarkable record.  Thanks in large part to the good work of EUB staff, Alberta’s pipeline failure rate has decreased by 27 per cent in five years, solution gas flaring has dropped by 70 per cent since 1996, solution gas venting is down by 38 per cent since 2000, and sulphur emissions from gas plants have been lowered by 26 per cent in the past five years.

In his article, Nikiforuk claims the EUB granted an extension to Compton Petroleum to Nov. 1 on its North Okotoks sour gas drilling program so it can “. . . work harder at convincing taxpayers and other agencies to help foot the bill.”  The truth is, in granting the extension, the EUB called on Compton to create a co-operative relationship with the health region, the City of Calgary and other government agencies and produce an effective emergency response plan.

Compton must also use the extra time to address its land use and resources agreement with landowners in the area. We have done similar work to bring companies, agencies and the public together in Drayton Valley,
where Nikiforuk accuses us of “abusing” rural Albertans. His assertion is offensive.

This year, the EUB responded to concerns about sour gas development by reclassifying every sour gas well in the Drayton Valley area as “critical,” which means that they undergo far more stringent monitoring by the EUB.

The EUB also founded a collaborative group, including municipalities, industry and members of the public. We are discussing changes to standards where residents are in more than one emergency planning zone, reductions in noise levels, reduction of gas flaring and venting, and more stringent rules for disposal of oilfield waste.

I also take issue with Nikiforuk’s claim that Alberta has “no cleanup fund” in place for oil and gas development. The truth is, since 2001, the EUB’s liability rating program has required energy companies to maintain strict assets versus liabilities to ensure they have the funds to clean up energy facilities that are no longer in use.

Also, Alberta’s orphan well program requires the petroleum industry to pay for the cleanup of orphan wells and upstream energy facilities with no identifiable owner.  The EUB is making sure that industry, not taxpayers, will pay any costs to clean up these facilities. Albertans need to focus the debate on public safety and energy development with facts and reason.

Not noise.

Tom Neufeld is the EUB’s communications manager.

[Refer also to: Nikiforuk: EUB: ‘Men Without Chests,’ ‘No Plan, No Policy, No Heart’ ]

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