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Updated June 2019

What is the Alberta Energy Regulator?

This EnerFAQs explains how the Alberta Energy Regulator, or AER, ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of oil, oil sands, natural gas, and coal resources over their entire life cycle.

Questions:


What is the Alberta Energy Regulator?
The AER provides for the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while securing their economic benefits for all Albertans.

Energy regulation in Alberta spans over 80 years. Since being created in 1938, Alberta’s energy regulator has evolved in response to changes in government legislation, shifts in priorities, and increases in regulatory responsibility. The regulator has had a number of names over the years, including the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board, the Oil and Gas Conservation Board, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, and now the Alberta Energy Regulator.

When the AER was created in 2013, following the passing of the Responsible Energy Development Act, the regulator accepted all the energy regulatory functions of the ERCB, as well as those previously held by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (now Alberta Environment and Parks) related to public lands, water, and the environment.

What does the AER do?
We regulate some of the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources. It takes a lot of infrastructure to produce, mine, process, and move all those resources to markets. We are responsible for regulating this infrastructure, which includes pipelines, wells, processing plants and facilities, in situ projects, bitumen upgraders, oil sands mines, and coal mines.

To ensure that this activity is safe, environmentally responsible, and closely managed, the Government of Alberta has granted the AER authority to

  • review and make decisions on proposed energy developments,
  • oversee all aspects of energy resource activities in accordance with government policies,
  • regularly inspect energy activities to ensure that all applicable requirements are met,
  • penalize companies that fail to comply with AER requirements, and
  • hold hearings on proposed energy developments.

As the single regulator, the AER’s authority includes—for energy-related development only—the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), including reclamation and remediation activities, and the Water Act. The AER is also responsible for public lands and geophysical activities under the Public Lands Act and the Mines and Minerals Act.

What doesn’t the AER regulate?
The AER’s responsibilities are limited to activities that relate to oil, bitumen, natural gas, and coal development. The AER has no authority over any of the following:

  • gasoline or other refined petroleum products
  • oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial or international borders (these are regulated by the National Energy Board)
  • any aspect of electricity generation or distribution, including renewable energies
  • the price of natural gas (these are regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission, or AUC)
  • gas utility pipelines (again, these are regulated by the AUC, although the AER does inspect these pipelines and provide incident response on the commission’s behalf)

How does the AER enforce the rules?
With additional authority also comes additional enforcement tools; simply stated, companies that are allowed to develop Alberta’s oil and gas resources must follow all rules, regulations, and requirements. If they fail to, strong consequences will result.

The AER’s enforcement tools can include

  • more frequent and detailed inspections,
  • more stringent planning requirements,
  • enforcement orders,
  • shutting down operations,
  • the levying of administrative penalties, and
  • prosecution.

In addition, we keep Albertans informed about industry’s record of meeting our requirements. Our Compliance Dashboard gives anyone a better picture of how the AER responds to and investigates incidents, enforces the rules, and penalizes companies when the rules are not being followed. We also share AER compliance activities on our website at www.aer.ca.

See EnerFAQs Inspections and Enforcement of Energy Developments in Alberta for more information

How is the Alberta Energy Regulator structured?
A chair heads the AER and leads a board of directors; none are involved in the AER’s day-to-day operations and decisions. Rather, these directors set the general direction of the regulator’s business affairs and are charged with approving regulatory change and setting performance expectations for the AER and its chief executive officer. In this way, the AER’s board operates as a truly “corporate style” board.

The CEO, who reports directly to the chair, is accountable for day-to-day operations, which include receiving and making decisions on applications, monitoring and investigating energy resource activities for compliance, and closure of energy developments, including remediation and reclamation.

Hearing commissioners represent another important part of the AER’s structure. Reporting to a chief hearing commissioner, these commissioners are responsible for conducting all hearings into energy applications and regulatory appeals. The hearing commissioners are also involved in developing the organization’s hearing procedures and rules and other day-to-day operations.

Hearing commissioners are independent adjudicators, and their decisions may only be reviewed by the Court of Appeal of Alberta.

What is an AER hearing?
An AER hearing is a court-like proceeding about the issues related to application or regulatory appeal that is open to the public. Parties have the chance to make their case by providing evidence, asking questions of other parties, and making final arguments. A hearing may be oral, electronic, or written. See the EnerFAQs Having Your Say at an AER Hearing for more information.

The AER has discretion as to whether or not to conduct a hearing when considering an application. In the case of a regulatory appeal, the AER must hold a hearing unless the issue is otherwise resolved through alternative dispute resolution.

How is the AER funded?
In its 2013 budget, the Government of Alberta announced that the AER would be funded entirely by industry. This model is used by other regulatory agencies in North America, such as the AUC and the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission.

The AER’s budget is established through a formal process between the Government of Alberta’s Treasury Board and the AER. Once the AER’s budget is approved by the Government of Alberta, the amount is collected by the AER through an administrative fee.

Regardless of the funding model, industry is held accountable for its actions and shares responsibility of ensuring sustainable energy development.

Additional Information

For more information on the AER and its processes or if you wish to speak with your local field centre or have general questions about energy projects in the province of Alberta, contact our 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. 

To learn more about the AER’s role in energy development, watch our Conversations that Matter video series on YouTube or on www.aer.ca. The videos use plain language and animation to transform technical information and present it in a way that is easy to understand. 

Every year we collect, compile, and publish a large amount of technical and regulatory information and data about Alberta’s energy development and resources for use by both industry and the general public. This includes raw data, statistics, application and hearing materials, and information on regulations, policies, and decisions.

Information and data may be downloaded from www.aer.ca or obtained from the AER’s Information Distribution Services (IDS). Find available AER data, reports, and services through the Products and Services Catalogue. To place an order for information, please email InformationRequest@aer.ca or phone (403-297-8311).