The process to develop oil, natural gas, oil sands, or coal resources is complex. Every energy development project—no matter what resource is involved—has a life cycle consisting of four stages: initiate, construct, operate, and close. As Alberta’s sole regulator of oil and gas development, we regulate activities at all of these stages.
By regulating an energy project across its entire life cycle, rather than only a part of it, we can use the right regulatory tool at the right time to ensure the safe, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of the resource.
Click to learn more about each stage and what companies are required to do:
When a company decides to initiate, or begin, an energy project, it must plan the project, engage stakeholders and indigenous communities, and obtain our approval before any development can happen.
The company determines how it will carry out the project and develops a project plan. This involves
- assessing land, environmental, and geological data;
- informing and seeking feedback from stakeholders (e.g., landowners and local municipalities) and indigenous communities about the proposed project;
- obtaining permission to access the land associated with the proposed project; and
- planning the project activities.
If the land associated with the proposed project is privately owned or Freehold land, the company must negotiate a private surface agreement with the landowner or gain access through the Surface Rights Board. If the site is on public land, the company must apply for our permission under the Public Lands Act and obtain consent from any occupants of the public land, such as leaseholders.
The company notifies anyone who could be affected by the proposed development, such as landowners or occupants, indigenous communities, other companies, and local authorities.
The company must provide clear and easy-to-understand information on topics such as
- how and why the proposed location was chosen;
- what stakeholders and indigenous communities can expect in terms of equipment use and operations;
- how waste will be disposed of; and
- how the company will respond to incidents or emergencies.
The notification process provides stakeholders and indigenous communities with an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed project. Companies may choose to incorporate this feedback into their development plans and project applications.
The company must apply and receive our approval for the project before starting construction. The project must meet our requirements provided in directives, bulletins, informational letters, specified enactment directions, and manuals; and follow government policies. To name a few, companies must meet our requirements regarding
- environmental protection,
- wildlife protection,
- water use,
- flaring and venting,
- waste management,
- data filing,
- emergency response planning, and
- liability management.
If someone still has concerns about a company’s proposed project at the time of application submission, we encourage them to submit a statement of concern for us to consider during our review of the project application. Based on these concerns, we might decide to
- hold a formal hearing,
- recommend our alternative dispute resolution process,
- deny the application, or
- reject the statement of concern if it fails to meet our requirements.
Once we’ve made our decision on the project, we’ll inform the applicant and anyone who filed a statement of concern, and we’ll share the decision on our Publication of Decision page.
If a company receives our approval to begin work on the project, the construct stage begins. This stage is when the company builds infrastructure to extract or transport the resource. This stage includes
- notifying landowners, indigenous communities, local municipalities and authorities, among others;
- drilling wells (e.g., exploratory wells, production wells);
- building pipelines;
- constructing facilities;
- collecting geological samples; and
- building infrastructure like roads, buildings, and rigs.
We will monitor the project throughout its construction to ensure that our requirements are being met. If we find that a company is breaking the rules at this stage (or any other stage), we’ll use one or more of our compliance and enforcement tools to bring the company back into compliance.
Once project infrastructure is built, the company will start to pull the resource from the ground and sell it. This is a long-term stage known as “ongoing production” or “operations.” Depending on the type of development, this stage can span many years, even decades. Examples of long-term projects include pipelines and oil sands developments.
Our field centre staff meet with landowners, municipalities, and indigenous communities throughout this stage, and we respond to public questions, concerns, and complaints related to the development. We may recommend our alternative dispute resolution process to resolve disputes at this stage.
We also monitor the company on a regular basis by performing inspections and audits to ensure that it is following the rules and that it responds to any incidents. Further, we require that the company monitor its operations and regularly report to us. Our data experts use companies’ reported information to determine trends, report on industry performance, and ensure that resources aren’t being wasted.
At the end of its life, an energy project (e.g., a well, a pipeline, or another facility) must be permanently and safely closed. The stage to close a project begins when the resource has been removed or when removing the resource is no longer economical. This stage includes
- suspending production,
- removing equipment,
- properly abandoning the site, and
- remediating and reclaiming the site.
Our strict requirements and liability management programs ensure that this work is done in a way that protects the environment and public safety. In fact, work to close a well, facility, or pipeline starts years in advance. We have also made sure there’s a safety net: as a last resort, the Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded, non-profit organization that abandons and reclaims infrastructure left behind if a company goes bankrupt.
Ultimately, project closure includes all the work the company must do to return the land to a productive state, as required by Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. In other words, the land should look like it did and be used as it was, or similarly, before development took place.
Only when all of our requirements to remediate and reclaim the site have been met will we issue the company a reclamation certificate. Even after the company has received an official certificate, it remains permanently responsible for the infrastructure as long as it owns the site. If the company is sold, the purchaser takes on the responsibility.
Monitoring also continues after the reclamation certificate has been issued. The company is responsible for surface issues related to topography, vegetation, soil texture, and drainage for 25 years after we issue a reclamation certificate, and remains permanently responsible for issues related to reclamation (e.g., contamination).