CALGARY - Saying the "world is watching," the Alberta government introduced legislation Wednesday that would put a single regulator in charge of overseeing all future oil, gas, oilsands and coal development in the province.
Companies currently must file applications to the Alberta government as well as to the arms-length Energy Resources Conservation Board.
Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act, creates a single provincial regulator that will also be responsible for energy resource developments from initial application to reclamation.
"We know that as we develop resources in Alberta, and the oilsands in particular, the world is watching to see the environmental outcomes that we achieve," said Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
"Are we making sure we monitor the air, land, water and biodiversity?"
The government says the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) will reduce the time and money it takes for companies seeking approvals for oil, natural gas, oilsands and coal projects and was one of six recommendations handed down in January 2011 by a government committee.
It's part of the province's efforts to make the industry more competitive with other regions. Two years ago, the government introduced incentives for oil and gas drillers and rolled back royalty rates.
"We all know we have immense resources. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly," Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes told reporters in Calgary.
"We are creating a one-window approach to energy regulations. The new energy regulator will be efficient and effective for industry, it will be efficient and effective for landowners and Albertans."
Calling the current regulator process "onerous," Hughes said the single-window approach will simplify the process.
"If you're trying to start a large oilsands plant in northeastern Alberta there can be a couple of hundred applications you have to fill out," said Hughes.
"Today, it's a single window."
The regulator will be governed by a board of directors, with a chief executive officer at the helm. It is expected to be operational by June 2013.
Highlights of the legislation include higher fines for individuals and companies who break the law, voluntary registry for landowners to register enforceable private surface agreements and more flexibility to receive and process applications.
"The environmental outcomes that we expect in this province will not be lessened. They will be maintained and increased," said McQueen.
"This new legislation is intended to eliminate duplication among the work of multiple departments — not to weaken environmental requirements or legislation."
Alberta's environment legislation remains as stringent as it did before but the new regulator will enforce all legislation related to energy resources including environmental protection, land and water acts, McQueen added.
The manager of operations in Alberta for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers calls the legislation a "major milestone.
"I think it really establishes a platform for future growth. It's a major opportunity to recalibrate a major system for Alberta," said Brad Herald.
He said it remains to be seen if the new body will help speed up the regulatory approval process.
"There's certainly that potential. This is a journey. I really think some of those opportunities will be realized when you look at that cradle-to-grave of legislation."