Alberta NDP promises to ban gas but not oil drilling in urban areas. Will Goldenkey or another foreign company return to frac Lethbridge?

NDP promises to ban gas drilling in urban areas by James Wood, May 21, 2015, Calgary Herald
As the energy industry braces for a royalty review and other policy changes from the incoming provincial government, the NDP plan to put an end to urban drilling for natural gas is being watched closely by the oilpatch and municipal officials.

The NDP platform in this month’s Alberta election campaign pledges the incoming government will ban gas drilling in urban areas. In opposition, the NDP had previously called for a ban on all drilling — oil and natural gas — within urban boundaries, but there was no immediate explanation for the more modest platform pledge.

Ward Sutherland, Calgary city council’s point person on the urban drilling issue, said he hasn’t seen a reason for the NDP differentiating between oil and gas drilling. The Ward 1 councillor said he doesn’t necessarily agree a ban is needed, but believes municipalities need more control over drilling within their borders. “We’re not opposed to urban drilling. We’re just opposed to having no rules and we can’t control it and have it in the right spots,” [LIKE THE CONTROL COMMUNITIES JUST HAD RIPPED AWAY IN TEXAS?] Sutherland said in an interview.

Sutherland said he and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman had been pushing the Progressive Conservative government on the issue — the issue has erupted in both cities in recent years, with public opposition towards corporate plans to drill in the communities — but little happened.

“We didn’t get very far with it to be honest. I was really kind of disappointed,” he said this week. “I think we’ll get better progress with the new government.”

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there were 26 applications for new wells in urban areas — defined as towns and cities under Municipal Affairs criteria — with none in Edmonton and Calgary. The regulator approved 22 of the projects, while four of the applications were closed.

The Tory government had been looking at new rules around urban drilling since 2012, when a controversy arose over a planned oil well in northwest Calgary. At the time, Sutherland was part of the Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak community association that had raised concerns over the well.

The issue became particularly contentious in Lethbridge, where Goldenkey Oil backed away last year from plans to drill for oil in the face of opposition from the community and city council.

Both incoming NDP MLAs elected from the southeast Alberta city — Shannon Phillips and Maria Fitzpatrick — were involved with No Drilling Lethbridge, a group that sprung up to oppose the development.

Alberta’s energy sector has raised concerns about a number of NDP policy pledges, including a planned review of the province’s energy royalty structure, a corporate tax hike and tougher rules around greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea of ending urban drilling, whether a blanket ban or a halt to gas drilling, is also causing concern.

Brad Herald, vice-president of western Canadian operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the existing system under the Alberta Energy Regulator — which includes mandatory setbacks and consultation with affected parties — is working well.

“It’s all about safe operation,” Herald said in an interview this week. “The oil and gas industry in Alberta has a long history of being in and around and proximal to people and communities. There’s a track record there.”

He said granting new authority to municipalities to oversee urban drilling is also problematic as it could potentially lead to different standards across the province.

Last week, CAPP struck a committee to work with the new government on energy issues and Herald said the drilling promise will be on the agenda for discussions.

A spokesperson for premier-designate Rachel Notley, who will be sworn in with her new cabinet on Sunday, did not respond to a request for comment on the incoming government’s urban drilling policy.

NDP MLA Brian Mason, the new government house leader, said he couldn’t speak to the policy in the platform but said urban drilling has been an ongoing issue for years in Alberta. “Pardon the pun, it flares up from time to time,” Mason said in an interview this week. “It’s usually around some specific proposal around which there’s a great deal of concern locally.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

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2014 02 24 C Abel cartoon Redford in the clouds published in Lethbridge Herald

2012 10 27: Alberta Bill 2: More deregulation for the oil and gas industry and hydraulic fracturing

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