Companies are responsible for responding to incidents associated with their operations according to the requirements outlined in Directive 071: Emergency Preparedness and Response. This includes not only managing the effects of the incident but also communicating with those affected. And while the company leads the response, the AER is involved throughout the process to ensure that companies follow the rules at every step along the way.
When an incident happens, our role is to protect what matters most—the public and the environment. This means ensuring the company takes immediate action to respond to the incident and limit impacts to the public, property, wildlife and the environment, while meeting all public safety and environmental requirements along the way.
We work with the company, local municipal authorities, and provincial and federal responders to coordinate a response and ensure that all requirements to respond to the incident are followed. We follow the Energy Resources Industry Emergency Support Plan (ERIESP) for emergencies with large consequences or that require joint response from multiple government agencies.
Preparing to respond
We expect companies to be prepared before an incident happens.
When companies apply to operate in Alberta, they must develop a detailed emergency response plan in accordance with Directive 071: Emergency Preparedness and Response. An emergency response plan describes how a company will respond to an incident and ensures they have considered what people, equipment, and procedures will be required should an incident occur. Plans can include details on
- public notification,
- evacuation of residents,
- spill or leak containment and recovery, and
- measures to protect the public and the environment.
In some cases, we may audit a company's response during an incident against their plan to ensure they are responding appropriately.
Responding to an incident
Once an incident has occurred, we may require the company to prepare and submit specific action plans and reports outlining how they will mitigate and respond to any impacts to the environment and the public. Examples include the following:
- Communication plans: We want to know who the company intends to notify and how they intend to communicate with them throughout the duration of the event.
- Environmental sampling and monitoring plans: This includes water quality testing and monitoring, wildlife management, and air monitoring. We want to know how the company intends to monitor and respond to the impact to the public, environment, aquatic habitats, and wildlife.
- Delineation and containment plan: In situations where a substance was released, we want to know how much was released, what area was affected, and how it will be contained.
- Wildlife protection plan: We want to know the potential impacts to wildlife and how the company intends to mitigate those impacts.
- Remediation plans: We want to know how long it will take to clean up and how they expect that cleanup will occur.
We review all action plans submitted to us to ensure the approach is sound. This may include input from our in-house experts, including water specialists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, air quality specialists, and geologists. If we have any doubts that the plan will not be effective, we will ask the company to make changes and resubmit. We’ll do this until we feel confident that they are on the right path.
It is the company’s responsibility to implement their action plans, and we will regularly meet with them to ensure that the necessary work is completed in a timely manner.
In addition, it is also the company’s responsibility to notify potentially affected stakeholders and Indigenous communities about an incident. Companies are required to inform us once they have done so and are required to keep those who are potentially affected by the incidents updated.
Ensuring appropriate response
Companies that fail to take appropriate action to respond to an incident will face consequences. We’ll take action by applying one or more compliance and enforcement tools, These tools range from notices, to orders, to sanctions and fees, and even to prosecution, and are outlined in Manual 013: Compliance and Enforcement Program.
Most compliance and enforcement actions take place after the emergency is over once we have reviewed the details of the incident or, in some cases, completed a formal investigation. The tools we use will depend on how significant the noncompliance is. For information about ongoing investigations and past enforcement actions we’ve taken as a result of an incident, visit our compliance dashboard.
If at any point during an incident we feel that the company isn’t responding appropriately—for example, not implementing their action plans or not following rules or requirements—we may take immediate action. Most commonly, this includes a formal notice of noncompliance, which details the requirements the company isn’t following, and an environmental protection order, which can legally require companies to undertake specific actions to prevent, stop, or mitigate adverse environmental impacts or risks to public safety within prescribed deadlines.
What if a company does not respond?
If the company does not take action to effectively manage an incident or is not capable of handing it, the AER can step in and lead the response. This may include leveraging the expertise of our staff to organize an appropriate response to manage the incident.
Please note that our response does not cover employee health, safety, and working conditions. These fall under the jurisdiction of Alberta Occupational Health and Safety.