What is the ERCB?
In Alberta,Canada, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) is the agency responsible for the development of the provinces’ oil and gas resources. Throughout an oil and gas project’s progress, ERCB is responsible for ensuring that the public interest, including concerns for public safety, environmental impact and conservation of resources, has been appropriately considered. ERCB administers such Acts and Regulations as the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (R.S.A. 2000, c. O-6), the Oil and Gas Conservation Regulation (AR 151/1971), the Pipeline Act (R.S.A. 2000, c. P-15) and the Pipeline Regulation (AR 91/20005). ERCB also issues and administers Directives that set out requirements or processes to be followed by licensees and operators of oil and gas wells, pipelines and facilities. In order to achieve its goal of responsible development of Alberta’s oil and gas resources, ERCB puts its efforts into ensuring compliance through education, prevention and enforcement.
The use of enforcement activities, such as inspections, is one of the most important aspects of ERCB’s compliance assurance program. ERCB publishes “ST108: Monthly Enforcement Action Summary,” which summarizes noncompliance enforcement information, including licensee company names, noncompliance events, date of enforcement, location description, and ERCB actions and licensee response. The monthly summary report does not include certain low risk (with respect to health and safety, environmental impact and resources conservation) non-compliance events that are satisfactorily remedied after they have been initially found to be noncompliant. Because ERCB enforcement actions are published within 120 days of an enforcement action, the most current issue of ST108 (released in September 2011) is a summary report of ERCB enforcement actions taken in May 2011.
ERCB in Action
The monthly summary reports indicate that ERCB conducts numerous audits and inspections every month. According to the May 2011 enforcement action summary report, the total number of audits and inspections taken was 2140 for that month. ERCB found that there were 51 high risk noncompliance events in the same month. The numbers for May 2011 are not atypical. On average, 1364 audits and inspections were taken and 51 high risk noncompliance events were found in each of four previous months.
Types of non-compliance events found and actions taken in response to the events by ERCB vary. For example, in May 2011, ERCB found that an energy company with a license issued by ERCB had disposed of wastes containing hydrocarbons by landspray while drilling or pump-off. ERCB did not suspend the company’s operations because they were already complete by the time of the inspection. However, ERCB ordered the company to clean up the site and submit a plan to address the noncompliance and prevent future occurrences.
In a different case, ERCB found another licensed energy company that operates an oil facility located closer than 100 meters to the normal high water mark of a body of water was not complying with the requirement of preventing spill or leak from reaching the water. ERCB suspended the operations in this case at the time of inspection, and indicated its plan to inspect the site before compliance is achieved.
Not Always So Harsh…
Some non-compliance events, even though they have a high risk are immediately correctable. For example, in May 2011, ERCB found that smoking less than 25 meters of source of ignitable vapor was occurring at a licensed energy company. The company’s operations were, however, not suspended because it immediately corrected the noncompliance. In addition to correcting the noncompliance right away, the company reviewed regulations with its personnel and contractors, and provided ERCB a plan to prevent future occurrences.
Public Awareness – A Tool For Strengthening Compliance?
By making compliance and enforcement information available to the public, ERCB allows all stakeholders to be up to date on what ERCB is doing to ensure that Alberta’s oil and gas activities are conducted in a manner that protects public health and safety, minimizes environmental impact and fosters conservation of oil and gas resources. The licensees of oil wells, pipelines and facilities can use compliance and enforcement information provided by ERCB as a tool for making continuous improvement in complying with the regulations governing oil and gas wells, pipelines and facilities. Furthermore, the public communication of ERCB’s compliance and enforcement information itself may serve as a deterrent for non-compliance by the licensees.