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Alberta Landowners Guide, Before Drilling

Landowners Guide Cover.jpg
3rd edition
Authors:            Duncan Kenyon, Nikki Way, Andrew Read, Barend Dronkers, Benjamin Israel, Binnu Jeyakumar, Nina Lothian
Publisher: Pembina Institute
Publish Date: October 2016
PDF Download: [Landowners' Guide]              [Landowners' Primer]                                                                    
Initiation Phase
Exploration Phase
Development Phase
                Overview of Oil and Gas Wells
                Before Drilling
                Questions About Lease Agreements
                Sour Oil and Gas and Emergency Response
                Hydraulic Fracturing
                Environmental Considerations of Hydraulic
Pipelines and Other Infrastructure
Environmental Impacts
Abandonment and Reclamation
Compensation, Rights, and Hearings


Before a company decides exactly where to drill a well, they may send in surveyors to find the best location for the well and access roads.[1]

As a way to have the right information and establish a professional relationship with the surveryors it is a good approach to get the name of the responsible surveyor — they have ultimate authority for survey activities on your land. If issues arise with the surveying it is advisable to first talk with the responsible surveyor; if issues are not resolved, you may wish to file a formal complaint against the responsible surveyor with the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association.[2]

The Surveys Act[3] and the Surface Rights Act[4] allow a registered land surveyor to enter and conduct surveys on private land without prior consent,[5] but the surveyor or the company that engages the surveyor is liable for any damage that the survey team may cause. The Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association strongly encourages its members to contact landowners prior to coming onto a property and, in the event that a landowner is not home, to leave a card that a survey crew has been on the property. If entry for a surveyor is refused, the company can apply for a court order to gain access.

If you are a landowner/occupant with livestock, you may want to negotiate moving them from the area to be surveyed. It is advisable to check the area after the surveying has been completed to check for damages, and ensure that nothing has been left behind that could harm the animals.

The Land Agent Calls

Before a company can apply to the AER to drill a well on private land or leased public land, they must send a land agent to consult with landowners, occupants and others whose rights may be affected by their projects[6][7] to request their consent as required under the AER’s Directive 056.[8][9] If consent is refused after the company has attempted to negotiate, once the company has received a licence from the AER they can apply for a right-of-entry order from the Surface Rights Board, as explained in Right-of-entry orders when landowner and company cannot agree. As indicated in Right-of-entry orders when landowner and company agree, the landowner may also find it beneficial to have the company obtain a right-of-entry order. The company may also have to consult with or notify those living on neighbouring properties, depending on the distance of the property from the well and the type of well being drilled (see Public Consultation, Notification and Involvement).

The minimum distances within which people must be consulted or notified for a new project application are set out in the AER Directive 056: Energy Development Applications and Schedules, and are broken down in Required consultation and notification. The directive has specific requirements not only for wells, but also for pipelines and facilities, such as compressor stations, batteries and gas plants. These are discussed in later chapters of this guide, but the initial meeting with the land agent will be similar in each case. While the directive sets the minimum consultation and notification requirements, the land agent must also assess the area and decide if other people (e.g., those living just outside the minimum distance requirements) could be impacted, and thus should be contacted before the company files its application with the AER.

Information you should receive

Where the AER requires consultation, the land agent must deliver both the company’s public information package and information from the AER.[10] The company’s package should describe not only the type of project (e.g., the specific category of well, as defined in Directive 056) and its location, but also whether any gas will contain H2S. It must include information on setback distances, flaring, potential noise and traffic impacts, as well as the emergency planning zone, where relevant. The company is also required to reveal how the proposed development will fit in with its existing and future plans and discuss how setbacks might impact your future land use.

Read the information package very carefully—both the company’s information on the project and the AER documents that explain the input you can have in the process.

The AER documents include:[11]

  • a letter from the CEO of the AER, describing the AER public information documents, the company’s information package and the dispute resolution process, as well as listing the contact numbers for the AER regional offices
  • AER brochure, Understanding Oil and Gas Development in Alberta
  • EnerFAQs: Proposed Oil and Gas Wells, Pipelines and Facilities — A Landowner’s Guide
  • Expressing Your Concerns – How to File a Statement of Concern About an Energy Resource Project

The company must also offer all current AER EnerFAQs publications that relate to the type of energy development, which might include:

  • All About Critical Sour Wells
  • Explaining AER Setbacks
  • Flaring and Incineration
  • The AER and You: Agreements, Commitments, and Conditions

Other EnerFAQs are listed in Information published by the Alberta Energy Regulator; all can be found on the AER website.

This information will provide the basis for consultation with the landowner/occupant. Although actual developments may depend on the information gained from a new well, it is still a good idea to ask the company about their future plans.

Remember, that if the well contains sour gas, the setback distances may be greater than for sweet gas; it will not be possible to use the land within the setback distance for residences and buildings until after the well is abandoned.

Pipelines deals with issues relating to pipelines and Oil Batteries and Gas Compressor Plants covers oil batteries, compressors, and dehydrators.

Time to respond

It is a good idea to talk to your neighbours to find out about other companies operating in the local area and to inquire about their plans, thus giving you a fuller scope of expected development. Before companies file their application with the Regulator, companies must send out notification of their proposed development, and then allow the public in the participant involvement program (or others who have expressed concern) at least 14 calendar days to consider and respond to the notice. If a company receives confirmation of non-objection from all those who must be notified before the 14-day period has ended, they may file their application earlier.[12] If after 14 days the company has not resolved all of the objections, they may file the application with the AER but must indicate that there are outstanding objections. This 14-day period is part of the participant involvement program, laid out in Directive 056. If all issues and concerns are resolved by the company before they file an application, they are entitled to file a routine application, which may allow for an expedited approval process (such as the Regulator making a decision before the filing period for a statement of concern is over). If there are outstanding concerns, the company must file a non-routine application, and there will likely be the full 30-day time period to file a statement of concern.

The requirements for companies regarding public consultation and notification are discussed in Public Consultation, Notification and Involvement.

The following sections identify some issues you may want to discuss with the land agent, such as site selection, setbacks and various environmental considerations. These issues are summarized in a series of questions in Questions About Lease Agreements. If you are unable to resolve issues relating to site selection, the terms of the proposed lease or any other health, safety, environmental, or socio-economic issue (except compensation), the company may propose using the AER’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (see Working with the Alberta Energy Regulator) process to facilitate or mediate an agreement (see Direct Negotiations With a Company (For Issues Other Than Compensation)). Any issues relating to compensation are dealt with by the Surface Rights Board (Compensation and Surface Rights Access).

Site Selection and Setbacks

The land agent will show you on a survey plan where the company wants to drill the well. If you feel that the site they have chosen is problematic, explain why this is the case and ask them to evaluate alternative sites. The company may be able to change the surface location of a well without affecting their chances of finding oil or gas.

Ask the company to locate the well as far away as possible from your residence, buildings, and water wells, to minimize the impact on you and your family. Keep in mind the prevailing winds between your house and the well, as there may be flaring activity during the drilling period of the project.

An oil or gas well is not usually permitted within 100 metres of a dwelling, permanent farm building, school or surface water body, or within 40 metres of a surveyed road.[13] The setback depends in part on the nature of the well, with greater distances required for sour gas wells than for oil wells and sweet gas wells. Check that the location of any water wells is shown on the survey plan and that the setback distances are satisfactory. Information on setbacks is provided in AER EnerFAQs: Explaining AER Setbacks.[14]

The minimum setback distances for sour gas facilities are shown in Table 3. The setbacks for sweet gas wells are the same as for a Level 1 sour gas facility.[15] As a landowner, you may want to negotiate a larger setback in some circumstances.

Table 3. Setback requirements for sour gas wells

Level of facility H2S release rate (m3/s) Minimum distance
1 <0.3
At least 100 m to a surface improvement (e.g. dwelling, permanent farm building, school or church)
2 0.3-2.0 At least 100 m to individual permanent dwellings and unrestricted country development[16]

At least 500 m to urban centres or public facilities

3 2.0-6.0 At least 100 m to individual permanent dwellings up to 8 dwellings per quarter section

At least 500 m to unrestricted country developments
At least 1.5 km to urban centres or public facilities

4 >6.0 As specified by the AER, but not less than Level 3

Source: This table is based on information in AER Directive 056: Energy Development Applications and Schedules, Tables 5.5, 6.3 and 7.5[17] Refer to these tables for full details.

Note: Any well classified as a Level 1, 2, 3, or 4 sour well may also be classified as a critical sour well[18], which means there are stringent safety requirements, including an emergency response plan.

Further information on sour gas is provided in Sour Oil and Gas Developments and Emergency Response Plans. For setback requirements for pipelines, see Table 4, and for batteries, gas compressors and other facilities, see Table 5.


  1. This material is from the Pembina Institute publication 'Landowners' Guide to Oil and Gas Development, 3rd edition (2016)'
  2. See Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association. for information about the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association and their formal complaints procedure.
  3. Alberta, Surveys Act, RSA 2000, c S-26, s 16. Alberta government acts are available at Alberta Queen’s Printer, “Laws Online/Catalogue.” http://www.qp.alberta.ca/Laws_Online.cfm
  4. Alberta, Surface Rights Act, RSA 2000, c S-24, s 14.
  5. The Surface Rights Act requires surveyors make a reasonable attempt to give notice, but allows for surveyors to enter land if that they were not able to contact the landowner.
  6. For more information on land agents, see Alberta Labour, or Alberta Labour, Surface Rights and the Land Agent: A Guide for Landowners and Occupants Concerning Land Agents and Surface Rights Agencies. http://www.assembly.ab.ca/lao/library/egovdocs/2009/aleii/173213.pdf. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  7. The Alberta Association of Surface Land Agents is described in Alberta Association of Surface Land Agents and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen in Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen.The main professional organizations that represent the oil and gas companies are the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (see Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) and the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (see Explorers and Producers Association of Canada).
  8. Surface Rights Act, section 12(1). The AER will accept documented verbal non-objection; the Regulator does not necessarily require written consent.
  9. AER, Directive 056.
  10. A full list of the information that a company must disclose can be found in AER, Directive 056, section 2.2.2
  11. AER, Directive 056. Appendix 10 contains the letter and the brochure. Appendix 11 Understanding the Participant Involvement (PI) Process tells industry how the AER expects a company to inform and consult with the public. Section 2 gives the general requirements for participant involvement.
  12. AER, Directive 056, section 2.3.2.
  13. Alberta, Oil and Gas Conservation Rules, 151/1971, section 2.110 (Alberta government regulations are available at Alberta Queen’s Printer, “Laws Online/Catalogue."
    http://www.qp.alberta.ca/Laws_Online.cfm); see also AER, Directive 056, section 5.9.10.
  14. AER, EnerFAQs: Explaining AER Setbacks (2014).
  15. Oil and Gas Conservation Rules, section 2.110; see also AER, Directive 056, table 7.5.
  16. Unrestricted country developments refer to any collection of permanent dwellings outside an urban centre that number more than eight per quarter section.
  17. The AER refers to Category D pipelines (where the pipeline associated with the facility contains gas with more than 10 mol/kmol H2S), and Category C, D or E facilities, which are classified according to the volume of sulphur inlet to the facility. This includes gas processing plants, some gas and oil batteries and straddle plants, etc. Facilities with less than 0.01 mol/kmol H2S in the inlet stream are in Category B and thus exempt. See AER Directive 056, table 5.1 for full description of categories. The AER provides a H2S Conversion Calculator on their website:
    https://www.aer.ca/regulating-development/rules-and-directives/directives.html. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  18. AER, EnerFAQs: All About Critical Sour Wells (2015)