Setting New Legal Standards And Timelines: Alberta’s Remediation Regulation

Article by Alan Harvie, Norton Rose Fullbright Canada LLP

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has amended regulations that will require all contamination caused by spills that are reported to regulators after January 1, 2019 to be delineated and assessed as soon as possible through a Phase 2 environmental site assessment that meets AEP’s standards and that is then either remediated within two years or subject to an approved remedial action plan with an approved final clean-up date. These are significant departures from the current requirements.

On June 1, 2018 the Remediation Certificate Amendment Regulation was passed into law under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA). It amends the existing Remediation Certificate Regulation in a number of important ways, including changing the name to the Remediation Regulation.

Groundwater monitoring wells

The Remediation Regulation will be administered by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for contamination at upstream oil and gas sites, such as wells, pipelines and facilities, and by AEP for all other sites.

Under the EPEA, a person responsible for the release of a substance into the environment that causes or has the potential to cause an adverse effect is under a legal duty, as soon as they know about the release or ought to have known about it, to report it to regulators. They must also, as soon as they know or ought to have known about the release, take all reasonable measures to repair, remedy and confine the effects of the substance, remove or otherwise dispose of the substance in such a manner as to effect maximum protection to human life, health and the environment and restore the environment to a condition satisfactory to the regulators.

Although persons have always been legally required, under the EPEA, to clean up spills, historically there was no legal requirement as to how a person was to assess contamination or any specific time limit as to how long a person could take to remediate the spill as required by the EPEA. This has now changed.

New timelines

The Remediation Regulation requires that a person responsible for a spill that is reported after January 1, 2019 must:

  • As soon as possible, either remediate the spill to meet the criteria set out in the Alberta Tier 1 and 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines and submit a report to the regulators about the remediation or undertake a Phase 2 environment site assessment of the site that meets the requirements of AEP’s Environmental Site Assessment Standard.
  • If the site cannot be remediated to the satisfaction of the regulators within two years, then the person responsible for the spill must submit a remedial action plan (RAP) that complies with AEP’s Alberta Tier 1 and Tier Soil and Groundwater Remediation GuidelinesEnvironmental Site Assessment StandardExposure Control Guide and Risk Management Plan Guide.
  • The RAP must include a period of time for completion of the remediation that is acceptable to the regulators.
  • The person responsible must take the remedial measures set out in the approved RAP by such time.

New legal standards

The Remediation Regulation previously incorporated into law the requirements to use the Tier 1 and 2 Soil and Groundwater Remediation Guidelines for obtaining a remediation certificate under the EPEA. It now requires that the Guidelines also be followed for assessing contaminated sites and therefore eliminates some historical practices in which persons responsible for spills used other clean-up guidelines or criteria.

The Remediation Regulation also requires the use of the Environmental Site Assessment Standard. The Standard sets out how contamination is to be vertically and horizontally delineated and assessed. The Remediation Regulation requires that this work be done within two years.

If the spill cannot be remediated within two years, then a RAP which meets the Exposure Control Guide and the Risk Management Plan Guide, and which has been approved by the regulators, must be in effect at the end of the two-year period. For some large contaminated sites, it may be challenging to fully delineate the contamination, develop a RAP and have the regulators approve it within two years. Furthermore, the clean-up under the RAP must have a stated end point.

Abandoned oil well equipment

These changes diverge from historical practices where, in some cases, contamination delineation has taken several or more years, and remedial actions, if any, have not been well planned and have had no fixed end point.

Implications

The implications of the Remediation Regulation for persons responsible for contamination are such that they will no longer be able to ignore or may only be able to slowly proceed with assessing contamination or simply monitor it over the long term. Concrete steps must now be taken according to set time periods and such steps must comply with AEP’s guidelines and standards.

Next steps

As mentioned, the new requirements to delineate and remediate a site apply only to spills reported on or after January 1, 2019. Before then, AEP is expected to release further guidance, host stakeholder workshops and potentially amend the Remediation Regulation.

 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP Website.

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About the Author

Alan Harvie is a senior partner at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP and practices out of the Calgary office.  He has practised energy and environmental/regulatory law since 1989 and regularly deals with commercial, operational, environmental and regulatory issues, especially for the upstream oil and gas, energy, waste disposal and chemical industries. He is a member of our energy and environmental departments.

Mr. Harvie also has significant legal experience in acting for the oil and gas industry in commercial transactions and regulatory matters, including enforcement proceedings, common carrier and processor applications, forced poolings, downspacings and holdings, rateable take, and contested facility, well and pipeline applications. He has also dealt extensively with commercial, environmental and regulatory issues concerning thermal and renewable power plants, electrical transmission and distribution lines, tourism and recreation projects, forestry, mining, agriculture, commercial real estate, industrial facilities, sewage plants, hazardous waste landfills and treatment facilities, transportation of dangerous goods and water storage reservoirs.

Mr. Harvie regularly advises clients about environmental assessments and permitting, spill response, enforcement proceedings, contaminated site remediation, facility decommissioning and reclamation, chemical compliance (DSL, NDSL, MSDS and HMIRC), nuclear licensing, crude-by-rail projects and product recycling and stewardship requirements.

 

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