GNWT still in talks with NEB, Alberta regulator

GNWT still in talks with NEB, Alberta regulator
Regulatory responsibility over the Norman Wells Proven Area will remain with the National Energy Board after devolution, along with the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.Photo: Town of Norman Wells.

The GNWT has confirmed it is still in negotiations with both the National Energy Board (NEB) and Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to provide technical support to the new NWT regulator following devolution, despite rumours to the contrary.

Anonymous sources with close ties to government told The Journal last week that political interference at the federal level had actually ended negotiations between the territorial government and the NEB in favour of farming out technical services exclusively to the AER, which has more experience with oil and gas regulation.

Deborah Archibald, assistant deputy minister of devolution implementation, confirmed last week that the government is still in talks with the NEB. Though nothing has been settled yet, she hinted that services from the board would likely be different than those provided by the AER.

“Our negotiations with the NEB are so we have arrangements in place Mar. 31 for projects that are still active as of midnight. We’re making those arrangements so they can continue what they’re doing,” she told The Journal.

“We also acknowledge the NEB has a depth of corporate and scientific knowledge in the North that we expect to tap into from time to time,” she said, while the AER on the other hand “has a number of technical experts we want to deal with.

“It’s safe to say both organizations have a lot to offer,” she added.

The GNWT will become the regulator of onshore oil and gas activities in the NWT as of Apr. 1, 2014, while the NEB will continue to be responsible for regulation within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and the Norman Wells Proven Area, as laid out in the devolution agreement.

Those activities include everything from exploratory drilling to the development of fields to the construction and operation of pipelines and gathering systems and geophysical or seismic programs.

Though Archibald said the NWT regulator – made up of representatives from the departments of Lands, Environment and Natural Resources, and Industry, Tourism and Investment – will make the final call on all assessments, because of capacity issues it will require technical support from staff outside of the territory.

“The GNWT needs to have that capacity on Apr. 1,” Archibald said.

“We can’t delegate the decision making process to anyone else, but we acknowledge that on Apr. 1, we are not going to have the scope and breadth of the technical services required to do inspections or review applications.”

Technical staff will provide services like inspections along with compliance and enforcement to ensure the protection of human health and safety as well as the environment. The other role the staff will play is to review applications as they come in to ensure they comply with regulations and policies.

Those staff could include well-integrity specialists to geologists – “whatever the nature of a project dictates” – who will provide the information required for the GNWT to make a decision.

“The GNWT will then undertake its own internal processes of reviewing an application from the perspective of our own policies; for example, our Land Use and Sustainability Framework or the Water Strategy,” she said. “In that context, the GNWT can make a decision.”

Though she could not give a timeframe as to how long the AER or NEB would be providing support services, Archibald said the GNWT eventually hopes to take over everything itself.

“Obviously consistent with the spirit and intent of devolution, we intend to do things entirely within the GNWT in the future,” she said.

NEB spokesperson Tara O’Donovan confirmed the board was still working on an agreement to facilitate the transfer of regulatory responsibilities to the GNWT.

“What we’ve agreed to with the GNWT is to assist them as much as we can with the transition,” she said.

AER spokesperson Darin Barter said it is not unusual for Alberta to provide support outside of the province.

“The AER is frequently asked by other jurisdictions to provide regulatory and technical insight and advice. In 2013, we had more than a dozen delegations visit the AER,” he said in an email.

He would not comment on the nature or cost of the services to be provided.

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