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Alberta Landowners Guide, Oil and Gas Operational Impacts, Conservation and Reclamation

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
Pipelines and Other Infrastructure
Environmental Impacts
                Oil and Gas Operational Impacts,
                 Conservation and Reclamation

                Air Emissions
                Drilling Wastes
                Other Impacts
Abandonment and Reclamation
Compensation, Rights, and Hearings

Potential Environmental Impacts During Oil and Gas Operations

As a landowner or occupant you can play a valuable role by keeping a lookout and documenting any problems with operations.[1] This chapter examines in depth some of the potential impacts that oil and gas operations may have on air, water and land. Additionally, it outlines the process for conservation and reclamation before and after development occurs (further expanded upon in Well and Pipeline Abandonment and Reclamation).

As the regulatory system is fundamentally based on industry self-reporting, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) inspects a small proportion of all wells, pipelines and other facilities each year, focusing on those operations where the company has a poor record, the site is sensitive, or there is a high inherent risk to the operation.[2] Given the AER’s limited resources relative to the size of the industry, as a landowner or occupant you can play a valuable role by keeping a lookout and documenting any problems with operations.

Oil and Gas Facilities

If you have a well, pipeline or facility on your land, it is advisable to regularly inspect the land around the site, especially if livestock are in the area, to ensure there are no spills or leaks and that gates are closed and fences are intact.

Unless it is an emergency situation you should first discuss any concerns you have with the company, and then register your issue with AER. In an emergency situation you should contact the company operator through its 24-hour emergency number[3] and the AER energy and environmental emergency 24-hour response line (as soon as you can do so safely).

If the company fails to promptly resolve any issue to your satisfaction, then you should ask for help from the AER. The AER (see Alberta Energy Regulator) deal with complaints related to the operation of a company on the lease site, problems that directly affect the environment and issues related to seismic activity or activity on public lands. The Farmers’ Advocate will also provide advice (see Farmers’ Advocate Office).

Complaints and field inspections

The last field inspections report was issued by the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) in 2013 based on inspections undertaken in 2012. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) assumed the ERCB’s responsibilities in 2013 along with all legislation and regulation of the oil and gas industry. In 2012, the ERCB received 754 public complaints, relating to a total of 963 issues.[4] There were over 27,800 oil and crude bitumen and satellite installations in Alberta and the ERCB inspected about 15% of them.[5] They designated 1.7% of the oil batteries as high risk non-compliant, indicating these facilities had violated regulations to the extent that they could potentially cause an adverse or significant impact on the public and/or the environment.[6] Problems were due to off-lease odour emissions of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), inadequate reporting of flared and vented gas volumes, and inadequate immediate emergency response capacity.

There were over 9,800 gas batteries in the province in 2012. Inadequate reporting of flared and vented gas volumes, inadequate testing of underground tanks, and inadequate flaring programs were the main cause of unsatisfactory inspections for gas batteries.[7]

If a problem is reported to the AER, the Regulator may require the company to fix it within a specified timeframe. The AER should be informed if the company does not comply within the given time period. The AER may impose a penalty according to an escalating scale of consequences, with higher penalties for serious offences and repeat offenders. Penalties can include temporary or long-term suspension of operations, the refusal of applications, closure or abandonment of wells, and prosecution.

The AER maintains its Compliance Dashboard,[8] which replaces its Monthly Enforcement Action Summary. On the AER website you can find summaries of incidents, investigations, and enforcement activities.


If a company does not clear away debris from a pipeline right-of-way or fails to restore the topsoil, cultivate and seed the land properly, or deal with drainage problems, the landowner or occupant should contact the company. The company should also be contacted if soil sinks in the pipeline trench or if the pipeline becomes exposed or if there are any other observable impacts.

You should also register your complaint with the AER. If the company fails to take suitable action, the landowner or occupant should contact the regional inspector at the Alberta Energy Regulator (see Alberta Energy Regulator) . The Farmers’ Advocate office (see Farmers’ Advocate Office) may also be able to help.

If there is a dispute about damages on the pipeline right-of-way, it is possible to go to arbitration. The arbitration process is governed by the Alberta Arbitration Act. If the damage occurs off the right-of-way line, the problem can be brought before the Surface Rights Board (see Surface Rights Board and Land Compensation Board). It is advisable to have this process defined in the pipeline agreement, so that if issues occur you have a process that is agreed upon by both parties.

If you suspect a pipeline leak, call the company and the AER immediately. The first sign of a leak might be odour but a slow leak might be indicated by a change in the growth of plants close to the leak. A company must report a pipeline leak to the AER. Failure to report or unsatisfactory performance may result in the AER ordering the pipeline to be shut in or replaced.

In 2012 there were 567 pipeline incidents (leaks and ruptures, not including other damage dealt to pipelines that did not result in loss) in Alberta, with 40% being caused by internal corrosion and a further 13% by external corrosion. The number of corrosion failures has remained relatively consistent since 2009. The ratio of pipeline failures to line length has also remained consistent since 2009, at approximately 1.5 per year per 1,000 km. The majority of failures were in small-diameter gathering lines (mainly 2–6 inch diameter).[9] Stress corrosion cracking is one kind of failure that can occur as a result of external corrosion in buried pipelines. While it is a factor in only a small percentage of pipeline failures, it is of particular concern because a leak in a high-pressure gas pipeline may lead to an explosion.

Oil and gas wells

The AER requires companies to test new oil and gas wells for surface casing vent flows/gas migration and to repair or monitor those with any leaks. A well must also be tested before it is abandoned.[10] These requirements are important because if wells are not properly cased or abandoned, gas, oil or saline water from deeper formations may escape from the well bore and contaminate shallow potable water aquifers. Gas migration — the leakage of gas outside an oil or gas well — can occur if well bore casings are not properly cemented or if earth tremors from activity in the area have damaged the casing.

Conservation and Reclamation

A company is required by law to pay attention to conservation and to minimize damage to the environment during the development and operation of an oil or gas well. Alberta Environment sets guidelines for soil conditions for reclamation[11] (see Reclamation of Well Sites) but you may want to discuss issues relating to your specific site.


Landowners should discuss and outline in an agreement with the company how they will preserve topsoil so that it can be used later to help restore the site. It is important that the topsoil be stripped and stored carefully; it must not be used for the construction of berms or dykes. It may also be advisable to have a layer of subsoil under roads and well sites stripped and stored separately, since years of compaction can cause permanent damage to the soil structure. In some situations it may be advisable to ask that an elevation survey of the site be completed along with the basic survey, to ensure that the surface of the land is later restored to the same elevation and that drainage is not affected.

Paying attention to the way in which a company deals with its drilling wastes may also prevent problems when the site is eventually closed down and the leased land reverts to the landowner. As remote sumps and disposal sites are often difficult to identify, a landowner should require the company to clearly identify their locations in their surface lease agreement. This ensures that when a site is abandoned the company can reclaim any site where disposal or remote sumps were located, prior to applying to AER for a reclamation certificate.

After the lease is signed, but before the company starts operations, a pre-construction site assessment report should be completed and provided to a landowner. This report provides a baseline against which to measure any future changes. Alberta Environment and Parks provide a recommendation on what should be included in this report.[12]

In areas of native pasture and parkland, a company should avoid or minimize its impacts on native vegetation.[13]


Problems can arise during work to abandon and reclaim a well site. The AER is responsible for down-hole well closure, and in 2014 assumed responsibility for the regulation of reclamation and remediation activities resulting from oil, gas, and coal operations. Complaints about surface reclamation on both public and private lands should be made to the AER 24-hour Emergency and Operational Complaint number, 1- 800-222-6514.

The process for reclamation is explained in Well and Pipeline Abandonment and Reclamation. The fact that a reclamation certificate has been issued does not guarantee that work has been done well, as problems may not become evident until later. At the time of writing, a company is responsible for 25 years for surface reclamation issues such as vegetation, soil texture, drainage etc; and it has a lifetime liability for contamination.[14] If landowners or occupants have problems with the reclaimed land they should contact the company first and then notify the AER. An AER inspector may inspect the site and may require the company to conduct further work in response to the notification.


  1. This material is from the Pembina Institute publication 'Landowners' Guide to Oil and Gas Development, 3rd edition (2016)'
  2. Energy Resources Conservation Board, Field Operations Provincial Summary 2012, ST57-2013, 2.
  3. Companies are required to provide their 24-hour licensee emergency number in their emergency response plan, as well as on an obvious sign at the entrance of the well or facility site.
  4. Field Operations Provincial Summary 2012, 2–3.
  5. Field Operations Provincial Summary 2012, 7.
  6. Field Operations Provincial Summary 2012, 7.
  7. Field Operations Provincial Summary 2012, 9.
  8. Alberta Energy Regulator, “Compliance Dashboard.”
  9. AER, Pipeline Performance in Alberta 1990-2012, Report 2013-B (2013).
  10. AER, Interim Directive ID 2003-01: 1) Isolation Packer Testing, Reporting, and Repair Requirements; 2) Surface Casing Venting Flow/Gas Migration Testing, Reporting, and Repair Requirements; 3) Casing Failure Reporting and Repair Requirements (2003). AER Directives are available at AER, “Directives.” 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.
  11. Alberta Environment and Parks, “Reclamation Criteria for Wellsites and Associated Facilities Application Process.” https://www.alberta.ca/part-one-soil-and-groundwater-remediation.aspx. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  12. Alberta Environment and Parks, Pre-construction Assessment Report for Wellsites, C&R/IL/00-8 (2000). https://www.aer.ca/regulating-development/project-closure/reclamation/oil-and-gas-sites-reclamation-requirements.html. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information. As this information letter indicates, the assessment should include a description of the land use, the type of surface soil salvage, the average depth of surface soil, the location of salvaged stockpiles, and drainage. It should detail any evidence of erosion or salinity, areas with poor vegetation, and weed patches, and ideally would include photographs. You may want to take your own photographs of the site before work starts, to augment the information provided in the pre-construction assessment report, in case there is any later damage that is not satisfactorily reclaimed. The information letter tells you who to contact if the company does not agree to provide this report.
  13. AER, Principles for Minimizing Surface Disturbance in Native Prairie and Parkland Areas (April 2014) https://www.aer.ca/documents/manuals/Manual007.pdf
  14. AER, Closure – Abandonment, Reclamation, and Remediation Fact sheet (2014).
    https://www.aer.ca/documents/enerfaqs/Closure_FS.pdf. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.