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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.

 

MOECC Releases Notice of Updated Excess Soil Management Proposal

By David Nguyen – Staff Writer

The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) recently posted notice on the Environmental Bill of Rights Environmental Registry of the regulatory changes to the management of excess soil (Excess Soil Management Regulatory Proposal, ERO# 013-2774). Excess soil is soil that has been dug up, such as during excavation activities, and cannot be reused at its original site and must be moved off site.  There is much controversy in the Province of Ontario and other provinces concerning the management of excess soil as there are claims and growing evidence that some companies mix clean soil with contaminated soil, some companies dispose of contaminated soil as clean soil, and other questionable practices.

The MOECC proposal clarifies where soils can be reused based on the soil characterization and aims to reduce greenhouse gasses from the transportation of soil by encouraging local reuse. The proposal also clarifies that the project leader is responsible for the management and relocation of the excess soil generated during a project to ensure proper characterization and relocation. Minor amendments to O.Reg. 153/04 and to O. Reg. 347 are also proposed.

The current proposal incorporates responses and comments from the previous proposal as well as from engagement with stakeholders and Indigenous communities. Changes from the previous proposal include:

  • A revised approach to waste designation
  • Reduced regulatory complexity and some details moved to guidance
  • A two to three years transition time for key regulations
  • Several O. Reg. 153/04 amendments to come into effect sooner
  • More flexibility for reuse through new reuse standards and a Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool to develop site specific standards

This proposal is part of the MOECC’s response to the commitments outlined in Ontario’s Excess Soil Management Policy Framework. Other actions of the framework include developing priority education, outreach and training initiatives to support implementation.

The specific regulations and proposals provided for comments are summarized below:

  • A new proposed On-Site and Excess Soil Management Regulation
    • Excess soil would be designated as waste when it leaves the project area unless it is reused in accordance with the rules set out in this regulation.
    • If designated waste, the regulation would clarify when an ECA is not required.
    • Hauling of excess soil would generally not need an ECA, but is still subject to certain rules, such as maintaining records.
    • Project leaders may use temporary soil storage sites without an ECA as long as certain conditions are met.
    • Unless exempted, a project leader is responsible for preparing an Excess Soil Management Plan (ESMP), which involves determining contaminant concentrations on the soil, finding appropriate receiving sites, develop a tracking system and record keeping requirements.
    • Key information from the ESMP would be registered on a public registry. A qualified person (QP) would need to prepare or supervise the ESMP.
    • The regulation would be phased in over two to three years.
  • Amendments to O. Reg. 153/04
    • Align the requirements for soil being taken to Record of Site Condition (RSC) or phase two properties with the new rules for excess soil proposed in the On-Site and Excess Soil Management Regulation.
    • Resolve delineation challenges experienced at properties going through the Risk Assessment process.
    • Remove Record of Site Condition triggers for low risk projects.
    • Provide flexibility for meeting contamination standards where exceedances are cause by substances used for ice and snow safety, discharges of treated drinking water, and presence of fill that matches local background levels.
  • Amendments to O. Reg. 347
    • Clarify that excess soil is no longer part of the definition of “inert fill.”
    • Clarify operational requirements to support exemptions from ECA requirements for excess soil related activities.
  • Proposal of Rules for On-site and Excess Soil Management
    • A proposed document to be adopted by reference in the On-Site and Excess Soil Management Regulation
    • Specifies ESMP contents, including an assessment of past uses, sampling and analysis plan, excess soil characterization, requirements for excess soil tracking systems, a destination assessment and identification, and declarations required of the project leader and qualified person, and applicable soil quality standards and related rules.
  • The proposed “Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool” (BRAT)
    • An alternative rules that aim to promote greater reuse of excess soil and the protection of human health and the environment
    • Allows a QP to generate site specific standards using a spreadsheet model

Comments can be made on the proposal up to June 15, 2018 on the Environmental Registry of Ontario proposal site or by mail.