In Alberta, Canada, a transfer of authority from the government to the new Alberta Energy Regulator is putting environmental regulatory authority straight into the hands of the oil industry. The industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is now responsible for environmental conservation pertaining to the Water Act, the Public Lands Act, and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, which deals with oil spills.
This year, more than 75 oil industry regulators working for the government left the environment department to take higher paying jobs with the AER and another 75 or more are expected to transfer in the spring, the Edmonton Journal reports. The government’s environment department also began handing over “thousands of files on oil industry activity pertaining to the Public Lands Act,” to the industry-backed regulator, according to documents obtained by the Journal.
The shift in regulatory authority is the result of a new government plan to streamline the permitting process for new oil projects. Previously, oil companies had to submit permit requests to both the environment department and the Energy Resources Conservation Board – a now defunct entity that was partially funded by both taxpayers and the industry. Now the AER will be responsible for regulating and penalizing the very companies that pay its salary.
Also troubling is the appointment of Gerry Protti, a founder of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an oil industry lobbying group, as chairman of the board of the Alberta Energy Regulator. The new chief executive of the AER, Jim Ellis, has also come under fire. While Ellis was deputy minister of the environment, the department circulated an internal memo criticizing a respected environmental group, New Democrat Rachel Notley told the Journal.
The department criticized the Pembina Institute for portraying the oil sands industry in a negative light in the media. The department then stated that the Institute’s criticism of the oil industry was justification for denying environmental groups standing in an oil sands hearing. The internal memo was recently revealed in a trial in which a judge ruled against the department.
Air quality in the oil sands region is already monitored by the oil and gas industry. The monitoring agency, Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, is “funded by the oil and gas industry to monitor air pollution from their operations,” according to Scientific American.
The processes by which fossil fuels are produced emit harmful volatile organic compounds. Products processed in Alberta’s “Industrial Heartland” region include benzene, propane, butane, synthetic crude oil, and ethane, among many others. In November, a study found that male residents of the Industrial Heartland exhibit increased rates of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to air pollution.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.