The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.
As Alberta moves toward new, unconventional sources of oil and natural gas, the AER is responding with regulations that ensure that this development is safe and responsible, the environment is protected, and impacts are minimized.
More than a century of oil and natural gas development in Alberta has led to a decline in resources that can be produced using traditional or “conventional” methods. As new technologies are introduced, companies have found ways to access oil and natural gas that was previously impossible to obtain. These methods are often referred to as “unconventional” resources.
- Unconventional oil and natural gas are essentially the same as their conventional counterparts. The term unconventional refers to the methods used to recover the resources and the types of rock in which they are contained.
- Unconventional natural gas is gas trapped in very dense rock and is difficult to produce by simply drilling a well. Therefore it requires methods to “crack” or “fracture” the rock to release the gas.
- Coalbed methane, tight oil, tight gas, and shale gas are all considered unconventional resources.
- Shale gas development occurs at significant depths, typically 800 - 3000 metres below the surface.
- Hydraulic fracturing—a method used to unlock gas - is the process of pumping fluids into a well to create enough pressure to crack the formation and allow the natural gas to be produced.
- More than 179 000 wells have been fractured since the 1950s.*
- More than 9000 horizontal wells have used multistage fracturing.*
- AER requirements are in place for all oil and natural gas development in Alberta, regardless of whether it is conventional or unconventional. These requirements safeguard our groundwater, ensure appropriate waste disposal, and protect public safety.
*As of March 31, 2014.