Adjustments to temporary monitoring suspensions under review, says AER

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) says it will be reviewing updated public health information and assessing how to adjust temporary suspensions on environmental monitoring and reporting requirements to align with Stage 2 of the relaunch of the economy to begin June 12.

In a statement Tuesday, the AER also defended its decision to allow oil and gas companies to temporarily suspend some environmental requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying energy companies indicated they conflicted with public health orders issued by the province.

The AER said it developed a formal review process to resolve these conflicts while ensuring that the environment and the health and safety of Alberta communities and industry workers remain protected.

In determining which requirements could be suspended, there had to be a clear conflict between complying with the government’s public health orders and with the AER’s environmental monitoring and reporting requirements, said the regulator. Secondly, it would provide a short-term exemption to environmental monitoring only if it would not seriously jeopardize the AER’s ability to protect environmental health and maintain public safety.

“Essential environmental monitoring continues, and all requirements to monitor and report emergency events remain in place,” said the AER. “These suspensions and modifications will apply for so long as ministerial orders 17/2020 and 219/2020 and the public health orders are in effect.”

Overall, the temporary suspensions issued by AER represent between two and five per cent of overall monitoring requirements, it said.

According to the AER, the suspensions were carefully chosen to address the conflicts in requirements while maintaining the integrity of Alberta’s long-term environmental information systems. The programs collect data over decades and are able to accommodate some breaks in collection and still allow it to assess changes in the environment, it said.

“The longer monitoring has been in place, the more easily we can detect changes in trends following any short-term pause of data collection,” said the AER. “Conversely, all monitoring and reporting requirements remain in place where we lack historical data, where contamination already exists, or for protected areas like Alberta’s World Heritage sites.”

The suspensions help to prevent people from working in close quarters and from travelling from around and outside Alberta, and reduces the risk — where possible — of spreading the virus to northern and rural Alberta communities, said the AER. This protects both the workers and the communities they are working in and traveling through, which in turn protects the health and safety of all Albertans.

In the release, Fred Wrona, Alberta’s chief scientist, described the temporary suspensions in select environmental monitoring programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as “low risk” and indicated they should not significantly compromise the integrity of Alberta’s long-term environmental information systems. He added that in these unprecedented times, the AER needs to continue to work with relevant government organizations, communities, and its monitoring partners to ensure it continues to protect the environment along with human health.

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