Updated September 2015
This EnerFAQs explains the purposes of Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) public hearings and provides information to assist you in participating effectively.
- What is an AER hearing?
- Do many applications go to hearing?
- If issues cannot be solved, may I participate in the hearing process?
- How do I find out about hearings?
- What is an intervener?
- How do I become an intervener in a hearing?
- What should I include in my written submission to become an intervener?
- What’s the next step?
- May I get information from the company?
- What is the Rules of Practice?
- Should I form a group to intervene?
- Do I need to hire a lawyer?
- Do I have to pay for all of this?
- How long does an AER public hearing last?
- May I attend an AER hearing just to listen?
- What is a hearing panel?
- What happens at an AER hearing?
- When will the application be decided?
- Can I really affect the final decision?
- May an AER decision be appealed?
- Who enforces whatever the company agrees to during a public hearing?
- Additional Information
What is an AER hearing?
An AER hearing is a public forum where those who may be directly and adversely affected by an application for an energy project may participate. An energy project includes everything from gas or oil wells and pipelines to sour gas processing plants and major oil sands projects.
An AER hearing is a formal and quasi-judicial proceeding. It provides a level playing field for all participants, who each have the opportunity to know and question the positions of others. This allows the hearing commissioners to make a fully informed decision.
Do many applications go to hearing?
The AER may decide to conduct a hearing when a statement of concern is filed for a proposed project. Applications for energy projects can create community concern or a need for more information; however, these matters are often settled through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process. When matters are settled though ADR or there are no statements of concern filed with the regulator, no hearing is needed. Also, a hearing might not be held if the AER determines that no one is directly or adversely affected by the proposed project. For further information, see the ADR page on the AER website (www.aer.ca).
If issues cannot be solved, may I participate in the hearing process?
Yes. By submitting a detailed letter, you may participate in a hearing if the AER has decided to proceed to hearing and has agreed that an energy project may directly and adversely affect you. For more information on the hearing process, see www.aer.ca.
How do I find out about hearings?
The AER issues a notice of hearing to inform people and organizations affected by an application about the hearing. The notice of hearing may be published in daily or weekly newspapers.
Notices are available on the AER website (www.aer.ca).
Companies involved in large projects usually hold an open house to explain their proposed project, answer citizens’ questions, and address the community’s concerns.
The notice of hearing provides interested persons with the following information:
- date, time, and location of the hearing,
- application number and nature of the application,
- a contact for the company that filed the application,
- AER information,
- the due date for filing submissions, and
- relevant rules under the Alberta Energy Regulator Rules of Practice (Rules of Practice), including the rule that documents filed must be placed on the public record subject to an application for confidentiality.
What is an intervener?
An intervener is anyone the AER determines is eligible and who has filed a submission in response to a notice of hearing or notice of application. An intervener may be opposed to a project or may wish to express concerns.
You must provide a copy of your submission to the applicant, as well as a specified number of copies (as stated in the notice) to the AER. All written submissions from the applicant and interveners become public documents, available to all participants. In this way, everyone is able to review everyone else’s submissions prior to the hearing and is better able to prepare responses.
What should I include in my written submission to become an intervener?
Submissions must deal with the application in question and should not relate to general industry concerns. Start by explaining where you live, work, or own land in relation to the site of the proposed project. Detail your views about the project, giving reasons why and how you will be directly and adversely affected should the project proceed. The AER must decide on applications based both on individual interests and broader factors that include the benefits of the energy project for all Albertans. If you simply oppose a project without providing solid reasons for doing so, or are not able to show how you may be directly and adversely affected by the project, the AER may decide you are ineligible to be an intervener.
If you have concerns, try to suggest reasonable alternatives that could alleviate impacts. Explain what conditions, if any, you would like to see imposed on the operator, if the application is approved. Be aware, though, that the AER cannot use unsubstantiated information. Try to support your beliefs with facts specifically related to the project and include written materials that you intend to rely upon.
For a complete description of what to include in the written submission, see the Rules of Practice, available at www.aer.ca and from the AER Information Distribution Services Section.
May I get information from the company?
Yes. The company is required to provide interveners with a copy of the application, including any supporting information, such as an environmental impact assessment or geological interpretations. However, the company is not required to supply everyone with a full copy of the application; rather, it will make a copy available locally for study. The notice of hearing will say where the application materials can be viewed.
Sometimes more information is necessary for someone to fully understand the applicant’s position. In this case, you may ask for more information through an information request (IR). The result of an IR should clarify, simplify, and create an understanding of the issues. The AER’s Rules of Practice outlines the procedure for making an IR; it is available on the AER website at www.aer.ca and from the AER Information Distribution Services Section.
What is the Rules of Practice?
The Rules of Practice contains directions for proceedings before the AER. The Rules of Practice explains how and what must be done in a variety of situations during a proceeding. The AER expects all applicants and participants in AER matters to be familiar with the Rules of Practice.
Should I form a group to intervene?
Research and preparation of a submission can take a lot of time and effort, and you may decide to form or join a group with other people in your area if they share your concerns or objections. A group submission may be very helpful, as it indicates broader support for the views expressed. Whether you prepare your submission alone or as a group, it is best to do very thorough work and provide solid evidence to support your points of view.
Do I need to hire a lawyer?
Although there is no requirement that a lawyer represent you during the hearing, having a lawyer represent your interests could be a good idea. The AER hearings are, in some ways, like a civil case before a judge. Lawyers are trained to present your case, cross-examine the other side’s witnesses, and make arguments on what the AER’s decision should be. The lawyer can also assist in arranging for experts, if they are needed to make your case.
Do I have to pay for all of this?
To qualify for the recovery of costs, an intervener must file a cost claim with the AER. Generally, the AER will require the applicant to pay those expenses that are directly and necessarily related to an intervention. Costs may arise from researching and preparing your submission, hiring a lawyer, and attending the hearing. Following the hearing, the AER considers requests for interveners’ costs and may order the applicant to pay them. Before spending money, consult Directive 031: REDA Energy Cost Claims.
What is a hearing panel?
A hearing panel may be one hearing commissioner or a group of three hearing commissioners who are selected by the chief hearing commissioner to conduct a hearing. The hearing commissioners are the decision-makers. A decision of the panel is the decision of the AER.
- Opening Remarks
The panel chair explains the purpose of the hearing and introduces the members of the panel and all AER staff in the room. Then participants in the hearing register an appearance, coming forward and introducing themselves.
- Preliminary Matters
Procedural and legal matters are presented, such as adjournment requests or the scheduling of a specific witness at a particular time.
- Applicant (Application)
The applicant presents its case and may question its own witnesses. Then interveners, AER staff, and the panel may cross-examine those witnesses. Once cross-examinations are complete, the applicant may question the witnesses again to clarify any issues that arose.
Interveners next present their cases in the same order they registered. After the intervener gives direct evidence, the lawyer for the applicant may cross-examine, followed by the other interveners who wish to cross-examine. AER staff and members of the panel may then examine the intervener. Following cross-examination, the intervener is entitled to clarify any matters that arose.
- Rebuttal Evidence by Applicant
Once the above process is complete with all the interveners and their witnesses, the applicant may submit additional evidence to address new points raised by interveners’ evidence.
- Final Argument or Summation
Each participant may provide an explanation of what he or she believes are the important aspects of the issues involved and what decisions they feel the panel should make. The applicant may respond to interveners’ arguments.
- Closing of Hearing
The panel chair announces that the hearing is completed and that the decision of the panel and the reasons for it will be given at a later date.
- Decision Report
The hearing panel’s final reasoning and decision on the application is issued in a decision report. This is distributed to all registered participants and is made available to the public.
When will the application be decided?
The hearing panel will release its decision within 90 days of the close of a hearing. In exceptional cases, the timeframe for the decision report may be extended. The decision report outlines the position of all hearing participants and gives the panel’s decision and reasons for the decision. The decision report is distributed to all participants and is available through the AER’s Information Distribution Services Section and on the AER website (www.aer.ca).
Can I really affect the final decision?
Yes. In making its decisions, the hearing commissioners consider all valid concerns put forward by interveners. If the project is approved, special conditions that take into account the specific concerns of local people may be attached to the decision.
May an AER decision be appealed?
Yes. An appeal of the AER’s decision may be made to the Alberta Court of Appeal on questions of jurisdiction or law, meaning that the AER did not have the authority to make the decision or that it made a mistake about the law. Permission to appeal the decision must be obtained from the Court of Appeal by making an application for leave to appeal within one month after the hearing panel’s decision is issued. In certain circumstances, the court may grant an extension.
Who enforces whatever the company agrees to during a public hearing?
The AER enforces the conditions in the decision report through inspections and, where appropriate, government department follow-up. Generally, responsible applicants do what they agree to and are required to do, and intensive follow-up is not required. However, if you think this is not the case, contact the nearest AER field centre and explain the problem. If your concern relates to coal mines, contact the AER head office in Calgary.
For additional information on the AER and its processes or if you wish to speak with your local field centre or have general questions about oil and gas in the province of Alberta, contact the AER Customer Contact Centre: Monday to Friday (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 1-855-297-8311 (toll free).
This document is part of the EnerFAQs series, which explains the AER’s regulations and processes as they relate to specific energy issues. Please visit www.aer.ca to read more of the EnerFAQs series.
Every year the AER collects, compiles, and publishes a large amount of technical data and information about Alberta’s energy development and resources for use by both industry and the general public. This includes raw data, statistics, hearing materials, and information on regulations, policies, and decisions.
Publications may be either viewed at the AER library or obtained from the Information Distribution Services (IDS). Publications may also be downloaded free of charge from the AER website (www.aer.ca).
To obtain a print or CD copy of a specific publication, contact IDS by phone (403-297-8311), fax (403-297-7336), or e-mail (InformationRequest@aer.ca).
AER Head Office
Suite 1000, 250 – 5 Street SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4
1-855-297-8311 (toll free)
Energy and Environmental 24-hour Response Line (emergencies and complaints): 1-800-222-6514 (toll free)