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AER’s CEO’s opening remarks before the Environment Committee

Thank you Chair and Committee Members for the invitation to appear today, where we meet on the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinaabeg People.

My name is Laurie Pushor, and I am Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the First Nations, Metis and stakeholders I am meeting with, and who testified at this committee.

These are lands where people have told us they practice traditional ways and exercise treaty rights, downstream from oil sands operations, and they need to be confident in the safe, effective, operation of the industry.

It is clear that neither Imperial nor the AER met community expectations to ensure they are fully aware of what is and was happening and for that I am truly sorry.

Our Board of Directors has initiated a third-party review into AER’s actions, processes, and communications surrounding the incidents and will publicly post the findings of this review. 

We are committed to working alongside communities, to strengthen our processes and engagement, to build relationships, enhance transparency, and broaden communications around our work.

  • The timeline at Kearl begins with incident one which was reported on May 19, 2022 as “discoloured surface water found on lease” to an AER inspector and to the Environmental and Dangerous Goods Emergency call centre (or “EDGE”), where incidents are assessed, and relevant agencies are contacted.

The day after notification, an AER inspector was on-site to assess the situation and Imperial was directed to: 

  • undertake geochemistry and root cause analysis studies,
  • install groundwater monitoring wells to determine where the water was coming from and implement a water quality sampling and monitoring plan – and  report to the AER every two weeks.  

At this time Imperial had the duty to inform any person who it knew or ought to know may be directly affected by the release.  

On June 3rd, samples identified an indicator of industrial wastewater, but were inconclusive and suggested it could be attributed to natural sources.

On August 16th, Imperial reported to the AER that the chemistry of the discoloured water was consistent with that of industrial wastewater. 

With this information, the AER issued two notices of noncompliance on September 2nd relating to releasing a substance to the watershed and failing to contain industrial wastewater.

On November 29th, Imperial confirmed that industrial wastewater was seeping through a common fill layer, mixing with shallow groundwater, and surfacing at locations on and off-site. 

Through December Imperial was required to:

  • Install additional seepage interception and delineation groundwater wells and
  • Submit action plans for source control, delineation, and remediation of the release.

Imperial’s plan would not have completed required work before spring runoff which needed further mitigation.

Incident one evolved in a manner that required technical expertise and rigorous on-site inspections to evaluate and understand what was occurring.

By the end of January, the AER had collected sufficient evidence and scientific analysis and had begun drafting an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) for incident one, when incident two took place.

On February 4th, 2023, Imperial reported incident two to EDGE, as a 2 cubic metre on-site release of industrial wastewater due to overflow of a storage pond.

AER staff inspected the site the next day and observed that the impact extended off-site. Imperial also informed that the estimated volume released had increased to 5300 cubic metres. 

Two days later, on February 6th, the AER issued an EPO to Imperial, covering both incidents, requiring Imperial submit and implement plans related to control, containment and delineation, sampling and monitoring, wildlife mitigation and monitoring, remediation, and communications.

The AER also released a public statement regarding the EPO and notified regional stakeholders and Indigenous communities.

Since the EPO, the AER’s technical experts are ensuring diligent oversight of Imperial’s actions to meet the EPO and ensure safe operations, with regular on-site inspections, testing and monitoring.

Intensive water monitoring is ongoing by multiple agencies including the AER, the Government of Alberta, Imperial and ECCC.

And we have shared our water testing results with communities and are sharing on our website.

I, and AER staff, have also been in regular contact with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to provide updates, answer questions and listen to concerns.

We appreciate the frank conversations that we continue to have.

As the AER is investigating, there will be some aspects of the incidents which would be imprudent for me to comment on at this time, to protect the integrity of the investigation.

As an organization we remain committed to making improvements at the AER and the work that we do each and every day.

Thank you