05/09/2013 03:36 EDT

Urban Drilling Alberta: Province Promises To Review Calgary Oil Well Issues


For the second time in a year, the Alberta government has promised to complete a review of the rules surrounding urban oil drilling and energy development.

Energy Minister Kent Hughes said his department's new policy management office will study the issues around drilling in urban spaces around Alberta, including cities and growing rural areas, reports the Calgary Herald.

This promise comes almost one year after Hughes promised to complete the same review, when Calgary communities raised concerns about plans for a proposed sweet oil well near Country Hills Boulevard.

Residents in Calgary's Royal Oak and Rocky Ridge neighbourhoods took issue with Kaiser Exploration Ltd.'s plan for oil exploration within city limits.

“We haven't been given a proper emergency response plan, and we're concerned about a drinking water line that goes just on the edge of the lease that Kaiser has purchased," Royal Oak resident Dawn Stewart told CBC Calgary last winter.

Residents also raised concerns about oil leak potential, a lack of evacuation routes, lack of consultation and lowered property values, as outlined in a letter sent last year to Premier Alison Redford from the Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community Association.

Hughes told the Herald his office will look not just at drilling in cities but also in rural areas that are undergoing intense development.

“I still see this as an important point in the history of the province to take a look at this and develop a policy because increasingly, there will be the potential for conflict between development and residents,” he said.

Ward Sutherland, president of the Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community, is concerned that everyone - the energy industry and community residents included - be considered in the review.

“I really feel like a pioneer. We’re the new frontier to say, why are we taking 20-year-old rules and using them now?” Sutherland told the Herald.

"It’s a vital part of our economy and we’re aware of that. We’re not against it, we just need to do it in a responsible way. “The only way that’s going to happen is by having responsible regulations — and they didn’t exist for urban areas,” he added.

Ned Beattie, Kaiser general manager, told the Calgary Sun last year the company would ensure the drilling is done in an environmentally-safe way that would be non-disruptive to people and businesses in the area. He also said the company would not drill deep enough to hit sour gas in the project that would take 10 days to three weeks to complete.

“We have told residents this does not threaten their communities’ home values because we’re out of sight,” Beattie told the Sun, adding trees and an earthen berm will form a sight barrier.

Urban drilling is becoming increasingly common in Alberta, with previous wells drilled in Edmonton, Red Deer and Medicine Hat.

Last fall Lethbridge city council voted to oppose oil and gas operations within city limits.

Alderman Faron Ellis told Global News, “We are making a statement we don’t support having drilling and then the production that comes from drilling for oil or gas within the city boundaries because it makes it more costly and complex to build the safe and efficient communities that we will be building over the next 20 or 30 years.”

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