Changing the Conversation

Judy Winter, a retired school teacher and farmer, walked into the meeting room in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, unsure of what to expect; some people at the meeting she recognized from around town, and others she didn’t. Her visit to the community hall was prompted by a meeting invitation she received from the AER that provided the opportunity to have her voice heard, and which she readily accepted.

To come from that history, to say I want to sit down and voice my concerns is a giant step. It’s better to have everyone at the table in the beginning instead of bringing them in halfway through.

Judy Winter, Synergy Alberta group veteran

As a Synergy Alberta group veteran since 2005, Winter is no stranger to these types of conversations.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to have my voice added to the mix,” says Winter. “It’s such a positive thing that I would be remiss in not being part of it.”

She was there to talk about the Integrated Decision Approach (IDA) and to provide her advice on changes to participant involvement requirements. “Participant involvement” is an umbrella term encompassing all interactions and communications between Albertans, indigenous people, operators, and the AER.

Winter explains that a lot has changed since the days when returning World War II vets welcomed any income they could get from their family farms. Oil and gas development was seen as an opportunity to make money. But often, hard feelings were left behind once the work was completed.

“To come from that history, to say I want to sit down and voice my concerns is a giant step,” remarks Winter. “It’s better to have everyone at the table in the beginning instead of bringing them in halfway through.”

Changing Expectations

The AER’s existing engagement requirements work pretty well for smaller integrated projects. But when projects are larger and more complex, improvement may be needed.

Today, oil and gas development is larger in both scale and complexity. Modern development includes multiwell pads (i.e., several wells in a compact space) and pipelines lined up in corridors, which is a stark contrast to how things used to be. But also, expectations have changed. Albertans want more information about projects on their land and in their communities and about how the activity may affect them.

Implementing IDA has given the AER the opportunity to investigate what is and isn’t working well with its current requirements. It allows the regulator to work with Albertans, indigenous people, and operators to develop new engagement rules.

Changing Requirements

In the fall and winter of 2017, the AER met with people like Winter all across Alberta to gather input and recommendations on potential new participant involvement requirements and processes. In February 2018, the AER established an advisory panel to look at the input and provide advice to enhance requirements.

All of this feedback will help shape the conversations that operators, landowners, stakeholders, and indigenous peoples have about energy development in our province.

As Winter says, “the AER has given us the door we can walk through to talk to companies.” Now it’s time everyone walks through it together.

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