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New liability management framework

The Government of Alberta announced a new liability management framework in July 2020 and directed the AER to develop new programs to implement the policy. We are using a holistic approach with the new programs, systems, and processes to implement government’s policy and help industry reduce liability in the oil and gas sector. Our holistic approach applies at all phases of energy development rather than focusing late in the life cycle. 

This graphic outlines when the new programs are involved during the life cycle of energy development.

Liability Management Framework

A new directive and manual

The AER has developed a new directive and manual to improve liability management as we implement the new framework. Directive 088: Licensee Life-Cycle Management introduces programs that apply throughout the entire life cycle of development that allow us to proactively identify potential issues, develop timely solutions, and increase the amount of closure work done by companies. Directive 088 includes the following:

Manual 023: Licensee Life-Cycle Management was developed alongside Directive 088 and helps to provide further details and clarity around the new programs. 

The following video provides an overview of the new programs that were introduced by Directive 088: Licensee Life-Cycle Management as part of the new liability management framework. 
 

Moving away from the liability management rating (LMR)

Historically, liability management has been largely reactive and not focused on the full life cycle of energy development. In particular, the liability management rating (LMR), which is a ratio of a company's liabilities and assets, has proven to not be an accurate measure of whether a company will be able to address their regulatory and liability obligations.

A company with an LMR of 1.0 — meaning they have the same amount of assets as liabilities — avoided having to post security for future closure work. When a company had more liabilities than assets, their rating would then drop below 1.0, and we would focus on collecting security. At this point it was often too late in the life cycle to collect security because the company was already in financial distress. Some companies that were in distress eventually become insolvent, and some of their liabilities would ultimately be managed by the industry-funded Orphan Well Association (OWA)

We saw companies become insolvent with ratings above 2.0, and some as high as 30, which highlighted the need for change. A more holistic approach was needed to assess whether companies can meet their regulatory and liability obligations and safely clean up their sites.

Our holistic assessment will replace the use of the liability management rating (LMR) over time. While we know that LMR is not an accurate measure of whether a company will be able to address its regulatory and liability obligations, it currently plays an important role in calculating the deemed liability in the oil and gas sector. The LMR is also integrated in several of our directives, as well as the Oil and Gas Conservation Rules, and cannot be easily or quickly removed without careful thought and consideration to impacts it could cause in other areas. As our first step towards removing LMR, the holistic assessment has replaced the use of the LMR for licence transfers and security collection for licence transfers. 

Liability management in the oil and gas sector – a brief overview

Oil and gas companies in Alberta are responsible for ensuring their infrastructure and sites are safely closed and cleaned up. The costs associated with this closure work — also known as end-of-life obligations — are what is called "liability." This liability information will be available on our Liability Management Rating and Reporting page until the transition away from LMR is complete.

The Government of Alberta sets policy direction for how liability is managed and provides general oversight, with the goal of reclaiming land for other uses. The AER is responsible for implementing policy, monitoring progress, and providing enforcement when needed. Our mandate is to protect public safety and the environment while ensuring responsible energy development.

Liability management has been a growing area of public concern in recent years in Alberta. Through ongoing consultation with industry and other stakeholders, the Government of Alberta and the AER have identified gaps in how liability is managed in the province. As a result of this work, the Government of Alberta released a new liability management framework in July 2020 and directed the AER to implement new programs.   

Why change was needed

Liability management in the oil and gas sector aims to reduce the number of inactive sites (wells, facilities, and pipelines) over time. Inactive wells, specifically, are wells that haven't produced and have been idle for 6 or 12 months based on the well classification. However, closure work has not kept pace with the steady growth of the number of inactive wells. While the recent economic downturn has played a factor, even during times of prosperity, the amount of closure work has often lagged behind. There were approximately 84 000 inactive wells in the province in 2018, 89 000 in 2019, 97 000 in 2020, and 96 000 in late 2021. While the 2020 and 2021 totals are similar, it is clear that how we manage liability has not slowed the growth of inactive sites. 

Regulatory changes to implement the new framework

Before we could implement the new government policy, changes were required to several rules and AER directives. In 2020, we announced updates to the Oil and Gas Conservation Rules and Pipeline Rules. We then published an updated Directive 067: Eligibility Requirements for Acquiring and Holding Energy Licences and Approvals, which also included a public comment period, in 2021.

We updated the Oil and Gas Conservation Rules and Pipeline Rules again in 2021, which enabled the new directive to be implemented. The creation of Directive 088 included a public comment period, and the extensive feedback we received through that process led to the creation of Manual 023 to help address that input. 

You will see more proposed regulatory changes and information from the AER over the course of the next year, including opportunities to provide input, as we work to refine our liability programs.

Important dates

This section will be updated as we build and implement the new programs and post new information. As we work through these changes, opportunities for public feedback will be posted below. We will also be meeting with industry to outline the new programs and help stakeholders to understand how the changes will impact them.

Date What More information
Early 2021 New liability management framework presentation This presentation, also shown above, outlines the new framework and provides early information on the licensee capability assessment.
January 13 - February 14, 2021 Public comment period for Directive 067 changes Proposed changes to Directive 067: Eligibility Requirements for Acquiring and Holding Energy Licences and Approvals 
April 7, 2021 New edition of Directive 067 released Bulletin 2021-11 announces the new edition of Directive 067.
June 7 - July 25 Public comment period for new draft directive on the liability management framework Directive XXX: Licensee Life-cycle Management will allow the AER to implement new liability framework components. More information can be found in Bulletin 2021-22.
June 2021 Inventory Reduction Program announced Industry wide closure spend target announced. Licensee specific mandatory spend targets will be available to licensees through OneStop. More information can be found in Bulletin 2021-23.
December 2021 Directive088: Licensee Life-cycle Management Directive 088: Licensee Life-cycle Management published following a public comment period. Amendments to Directive 006 have also been made.
January 2022 Mandatory Targets Beginning January 1, 2022, all licensees with inactive liability will be required to meet an individual annual mandatory target determined by the AER.
2022 Replacement of the LLR Program and associated regulatory changes Changes will be made to Directive 006 in phases as we transition away from the Licensee Liability Rating Program and implement the programs outlined in Directive 088: Licensee Life-cycle Management. In this first phase, requirements around licence transfer applications will be moved from Directive 006 to the new directive. Subsequent phases will include additional changes to Directive 006 and other AER directives related to liability management (e.g., Directive 001, Directive 011, Directive 024, Directive 068, and Directive 075) to align with the new Liability Management Framework.
2022 Closure nomination program implementation Eligible requestors will be able to nominate eligible inactive or abandoned oil and gas sites (wells, pipelines, and facilities) for closure through the AER’s new closure nomination program.

Other liability initiatives not involving the AER

Site Rehabilitation Program

The Government of Alberta's site rehabilitation program is funded by the Government of Canada and allows eligible companies to apply for funding to complete abandonment and reclamation work. The Government of Alberta is responsible for awarding and distributing program funds. The program is not part of the new liability management framework, and the AER is not involved in its administration.

Companies participating in the program must continue to meet all AER requirements. Albertans can contact the AER's 24-hour response line at 1-800-222-6514 if they have any safety, environmental, or compliance concerns.

More information about eligibility, project requirements, and detailed guidelines can be found on the Government of Alberta's site rehabilitation program website. Questions about the program should be directed to the Government of Alberta at 1-833-680-9083 or @email.

Unpaid municipal taxes and surface lease payments

The AER may consider unpaid municipal taxes and surface lease payments as factors when assessing unreasonable risk related to eligibility for energy development. We can request information from companies on unpaid municipal taxes and surface lease payments when determining if they are eligible to hold a licence as well as for maintaining eligibility throughout the life cycle. When requested by the AER, companies must disclose the amount of any unpaid municipal taxes or surface lease payments. This information will allow us to better assess if a company has the financial capacity to maintain their eligibility to hold a licence and if they are able to meet their regulatory and liability obligations, including closing energy infrastructure.

Municipalities can share their concerns around unpaid municipal taxes or surface lease payments by submitting a statement of concern on Directive 067 eligibility applications and on Directive 088 transfer applications. The AER is unable to consider specific complaints for unpaid municipal taxes or surface lease payments outside of this process. We post public notices for all applications we receive on our website. 

The AER is not involved with the collection of unpaid municipal taxes or surface lease payments and does not have jurisdiction to take compliance or enforcement actions related to non-payment. Municipalities continue to be responsible for the collection and enforcement of their municipal taxes.

Landowners should contact the Land & Property Rights Tribunal at 780-427-2444 or @email for information or questions about surface lease payments. Landowners are eligible to apply for surface lease compensation through the Land & Property Rights Tribunal. The Government of Alberta has more information on what to do when a company fails to make annual surface lease payments. The Farmers' Advocate Office provides support and resources for farmers and ranchers, including advocacy and energy, utility, surface rights, and rural dispute resolution. You can contact the Farmers' Advocate Office through 310-FARM (3276) or @email.

Questions

We know that Albertans are passionate about liability. If you have a question about a certain program, please connect with us.

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1-855-297-8311 (toll-free)