– Environmental Regulation Centre

Nonetheless simmering…  Alberta’s geothermal assets growth regulatory scheme


On the finish of 2020, the Geothermal Assets Improvement Act (GRDA) was handed though it has not but been proclaimed into drive. The GRDA offers the regulatory framework for growth of deep geothermal useful resource growth (i.e. these assets beneath the base of groundwater safety). The Alberta Vitality Regulator (AER) has launched its draft Directive [XXX] for Geothermal Useful resource Improvement (Geothermal Directive) which offers extra element round geothermal useful resource growth regulation however no rules pursuant to the GRDA have been launched but.

This weblog submit is a modified excerpt from:

Temporary: Legal responsibility Points in Geothermal Useful resource Improvement 


This weblog submit offers an outline of what the regulatory scheme for deep geothermal assets will appear to be as soon as the GRDA is in drive and the Geothermal Directive is finalized (assuming the ultimate model is similar because the draft model). As well as, this weblog submit seems to be at how legal responsibility is addressed within the GRDA and the Geothermal Directive.


Overview of the GRDA

The first operate of the GRDA is to determine a licensing regime for deep geothermal useful resource operations. A licence is required to drill a geothermal properly or to function any geothermal properly or facility (s. 7). The AER could grant licences on any phrases and circumstances that it considers acceptable and licences could also be amended both on the AER’s personal movement or on utility by the licensee (s. 9). A licence could also be transferred to a different particular person solely with written consent of the AER and the switch is topic to any circumstances, restrictions or stipulations prescribed by the AER(s. 9). Additional, the AER has the authority to cancel or droop a licence within the occasion of a non-compliance or if gear or operations are improper, hazardous, insufficient or faulty (s. 10). Along with cancellation or suspension of a license, the AER could shut down a properly or facility and direct remedial actions be taken (s. 10). The AER has numerous enforcement powers underneath the GRDA similar to inspection and investigation, directing suspension or abandonment of a properly or facility, taking steps to droop or abandon a properly or facility, and directing or taking remedial motion within the occasion of a substance launch (ss. 11, 12, 14, 15 and 21).

The GRDA doesn’t say a lot about environmental issues for deep geothermal operations. As an illustration, there may be nothing within the GRDA mandating environmental evaluation, cost of upfront safety, acceptable set-backs from water our bodies or different delicate landscapes, or timelines for reclamation and remediation actions. As a substitute, the AER is granted broad discretion to make guidelines, leaving a lot of the environmental regulation to the discretion of the AER.


Rules underneath the GRDA

The Cupboard is granted regulation making authority on a number of issues together with entry to geothermal assets, applicability of different power useful resource enactments to geothermal assets, and prescribing issues as not being wells or services for the needs of the GRDA (s. 27). To this point, no rules have been launched to the general public.  Nevertheless, it’s affordable to anticipate that some rules will observe proclamation of the GRDA.


AER Geothermal Directive

Important, discretionary rule making powers are granted to the AER by the GRDA. This consists of addressing issues similar to licensing; operational issues; administration of wastes; monitoring and compliance; shut-down, suspension, abandonment and different closure actions; safety necessities; conservation and administration of geothermal assets; and site of geothermal operations together with setbacks (s. 26).

As will be seen, a lot of the regulation for geothermal actions is left to the discretion of the AER. The AER proposes to supply this regulation by way of the Geothermal Directive which remains to be in draft kind.

The Geothermal Directive applies to wells, services and pipelines related to geothermal useful resource growth in any respect phases: initiation, building, operation and closure. Lots of the necessities for geothermal developments are the identical as these for oil and gasoline growth and, as such, the Geothermal Directive accommodates quite a few references to different AER directives that are relevant.

The Geothermal Directive addresses issues similar to technical necessities for wells, services and pipelines; necessities for danger evaluation of induced seismicity (for wells); purposes for acquiring and transferring licenses; and geothermal knowledge submitting, measurement and reporting necessities. The Geothermal Directive additionally units out closure necessities for wells, services and pipelines which incorporates assembly the equal land functionality normal as set by the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation.  Necessities for conversion of an oil and gasoline properly to a geothermal properly are set out in part 3.4.6 of the Geothermal Directive (i.e. an modification utility is required to transform the properly licence and transformed wells should meet the necessities in Directive 020 in addition to these within the  Geothermal Directive).


Amendments to different Laws

There are quite a few consequential amendments that will probably be made as soon as the GRDA is proclaimed into drive together with to the Accountable Vitality Improvement Act,  the Environmental Safety and Enhancement Act (EPEA), the Mines and Minerals Act, the Oil and Gasoline Conservation Act (OGCA), and the Pipeline Act.  As an illustration, the Mines and Minerals Act will probably be amended to supply that, the place the context permits or requires, that Act applies to geothermal assets.

The OCGA will probably be amended to incorporate the likelihood that, by way of regulation, some or all provisions of the OCGA will apply to geothermal wells and services. As properly, the OCGA part 106 authority which basically permits suspension of principals (together with officers and administrators) from participating in ongoing or future operations is prolonged to geothermal wells and services.


Legal responsibility provisions within the GRDA

By way of legal responsibility, geothermal useful resource regulation needs to be designed to stick to the polluter pays precept the place the geothermal operator is accountable to clean-up its wells and different infrastructure.  So what does the GRDA say about legal responsibility for geothermal wells/services?  The brief reply isn’t loads.

As a place to begin, the GRDA defines a geothermal properly as “an orifice within the floor accomplished or being drilled to a depth beneath the bottom of groundwater safety for the aim of the exploration for or growth of geothermal assets” (s. 1(1)(h)). As well as, the AER could designate an oil and gasoline properly/facility as being a geothermal properly/facility for the needs of the GRDA (s. 1(3)(b)).  This implies along with being a geothermal properly/facility, that very same properly/facility could have had a earlier historical past of oil and gasoline operations which complicates the legal responsibility image (i.e. which operator and which exercise created the legal responsibility?).

Because the AER could designate an oil and gasoline properly/facility as a properly/facility for the needs of the GRDA, this implies oil and gasoline properly/services could also be transformed into geothermal wells/services. If an individual apart from the licensee or an individual directed by the AER to undertake operations desires to transform a properly or facility, the GRDA signifies that they need to receive a licence to undertake operations (s. 8).  At such time, the previous licensee is relieved from all obligations underneath the Act with respect to the properly or facility aside from excellent money owed to the AER or to the orphan fund in respect of suspension or abandonment prices (s. 8).

The GRDA additionally states that abandonment of a geothermal properly or facility doesn’t relieve the licensee or working curiosity participant from accountability for management or additional abandonment or from accountability for the prices doing such work (s. 16).

As between working curiosity members, the GRDA offers that prices of suspension, abandonment, remediation and reclamation should be paid by every working curiosity participant in accordance with their proportionate share within the properly or facility, though this may be modified by the AER (s. 17).

As soon as the GRDA is proclaimed into drive, the EPEA will probably be amended to increase the definition of properly to incorporate geothermal wells. This implies lands which include geothermal wells will probably be categorized as specified land underneath the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation, and will probably be topic to the EPEA’s conservation and reclamation necessities (i.e. returning land to an equal land functionality).


Legal responsibility provisions within the Geothermal Directive

Part 2 of the Geothermal Directive is most related to legal responsibility points because it units out the necessities for license eligibility, holistic licensee evaluation, the licensee administration program, legal responsibility evaluation and safety deposits.  Earlier than making use of for a licence, an applicant should receive licensee eligibility as per Directive 067: Eligibility Necessities for Holding Vitality Licences and Approvals. Solely these decided to be eligible by the AER are allowed to amass or maintain licenses for properly, services or pipelines.

All regulatory selections made a couple of specific licensee are knowledgeable by holistic licensee evaluation which is a “multi issue strategy to evaluate the capabilities of licensees to fulfill their regulatory and legal responsibility obligations all through the Geothermal growth life cycle” (s. 2.8).  The elements to be thought of are listed in part 4.5 of Directive 067, in addition to these listed in part 2.8 of the Geothermal Directive, together with:

  • monetary well being;
  • estimated complete magnitude of legal responsibility;
  • remaining lifespan of the geothermal growth and infrastructures;
  • charge of closure actions and spending, and tempo of inactive legal responsibility development;
  • administration and upkeep of regulated infrastructure and websites; and
  • compliance with administrative regulatory necessities.


All geothermal licence purposes set off the holistic licensee evaluation which is taken into account within the determination to approve, approve with circumstances or deny a licence.

The Licensee Administration Program is designed to permit the AER to “proactively monitor licensees to assist the accountable administration of geothermal growth” (s. 2.9). Underneath this program, the data gathered from the holistic licensee evaluation is used to determine these licensees at larger danger of failure in assembly regulatory and legal responsibility obligations. The AER could undertake engagement (similar to schooling, encouragement to observe greatest practices), or particular regulatory motion because of this.

The AER requires geothermal candidates or licensees to supply a legal responsibility evaluation which is an estimate of complete liabilities related to geothermal growth (s. 2.10).  This consists of the prices of care and custody, and the prices to completely finish operations together with abandonment and reclamation. The legal responsibility evaluation should think about elements similar to geographic location, web site contamination, H2S and CO2 content material of manufacturing fluid in open-loop wells, and properly or facility traits (e.g. new or transformed, depth and diameter, groundwater safety, facility kind). The AER could require a site-specific evaluation in accordance with Directive 001: Necessities for Web site-Particular Legal responsibility Assessments in Assist of the ERCB’s Legal responsibility Administration Applications.

By way of safety deposits, the Geothermal Directive references the Geothermal Assets Improvement Guidelines(which seem like rules underneath the GRDA which haven’t but been launched even in draft kind) as granting the AER broad authority to require safety deposits. The AER will decide the necessity and quantity of safety required based mostly upon the holistic licensee evaluation. The utmost safety quantity that may be required is the licensee’s complete liabilities.


Closing ideas on geothermal useful resource growth and legal responsibility

It’s obvious that the strategy to deep geothermal assets, when it comes to each regulation and legal responsibility, is modelled on the OGCA and the AER oil and gasoline legal responsibility administration strategy. Given the present important oil and gasoline legal responsibility downside in Alberta, which arose underneath the OGCA and the present legal responsibility administration strategy, it is rather regarding that the identical errors could also be repeated with geothermal useful resource growth. Because the ELC has beforehand really useful with oil and gasoline growth, legislated timelines for properly clean-up and necessities for up-front safety must be in place for geothermal useful resource growth.

Additional, contemplating that geothermal energy initiatives require authorities funding and this public funding is required to facilitate development within the business sooner or later any excellent oil and gasoline liabilities should be resolved previous to switch to new geothermal operators.


Geothermal Vitality: Alberta’s Geothermal Assets Regulatory Scheme at a Look


Temporary: Legal responsibility Points in Geothermal Useful resource Improvement 

The Environmental Regulation Centre (ELC) has been in search of sturdy and efficient environmental legal guidelines because it was based in 1982. The ELC is devoted to offering credible, complete and goal authorized data relating to pure assets, power and environmental legislation, coverage and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to advocate for legal guidelines that can maintain ecosystems and guarantee a wholesome surroundings and to have interaction residents within the legal guidelines’ creation and enforcement. Our imaginative and prescient is a society the place our legal guidelines safe an surroundings that sustains present and future generations and helps ecosystem well being.

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