Regulating unconventional oil and gas in Alberta



The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board is seeking feedback on a new approach to regulating unconventional resources, such as shale oil and shale gas.

The new approach includes requiring early and meaningful stakeholder engagement, minimizing surface impacts, protecting water, and maximizing resource recovery. Albertans have until March 31 to submit feedback to the ERCB.

Regulating Unconventional Oil and Gas in Alberta - a Discussion Paper outlines a new approach to oil and gas regulation that encourages early and meaningful stakeholder engagement, minimizes surface impacts, protects water, and maximizes resource recovery.

'Alberta has a long history of regulating safe and responsible oil and gas development,' said ERCB Chairman Dan McFadyen.

'The discussion paper continues that strong record by describing a proposed regulatory approach that is innovative and progressive. We invite Albertans to comment on the proposed approach to ensure that the regulatory objectives are appropriate.'

The technology used to develop unconventional resources is not new in Alberta; however, the scale of the developments has the potential to be much larger than Albertans may have experienced in the past.

To address the associated challenges with large-scale developments, the ERCB has suggested a new regulatory approach that includes moving from well-by-well regulation to regulation focused on development within a defined area.

This play-focused regulation would be performance-based to achieve specific outcomes in public safety, water protection, air quality, waste management, surface impacts, resource conservation, and orderly development.

Approximately 171,000 wells in Alberta have been stimulated using hydraulic fracturing since the technology was first introduced in the 1950s. Since 2008, approximately 5,000 horizontal wells have been drilled in Alberta using multi-stage hydraulic fracturing to enhance oil and gas recovery.

The ERCB has 15 directives that guide the safe and responsible development of Alberta's energy resources, including protecting groundwater, ensuring the responsible handling of drilling waste, and restricting shallow fracturing operations.

The ERCB intends to build on this regulatory foundation to address the unique issues, risks, opportunities, and challenges posed by the scale of unconventional resource development.

The new approach recognizes the distinct challenges with developing unconventional resources, such as a higher concentration of infrastructure over a larger area, water use, and cumulative regional effects. To meet these challenges, the ERCB's new approach is hinged on two basic principles:

  • Risk-based regulation - requires regulatory responses that are proportional to the level of risk posed by energy development.
    Play-focused regulation - requires regulatory solutions that apply to an entire 'play' and are designed to achieve specific environmental, economic, and social outcomes.
  • A 'play' is determined mainly by geology, the properties of the resource, the technology required to develop the resource, and surface impacts. The play concept differs from the current regulatory model where development generally occurs on a well-by-well basis. Development within these plays must achieve the following outcomes:

Water management

  • Maintain a sustainable level of nonsaline water use.
  • Maintain the quality of surface water and nonsaline groundwater.

Waste management

  • Conserve resources, minimize waste, prevent pollution, and protect the public and environment.

Air quality

  • Ensure the public and environment are not measurably affected by adverse air quality.


  • Maximize economic recovery of reservoir fluids and conservation of gas.
  • Ensure equal opportunity for all resource owners/lessees in receiving an equitable share of production.

Orderly development

  • Minimize regional issues and the cumulative effects of development.

Public safety

  • Ensure that oil and gas activities foes not compromise public safety.

Information and advice

  • Understand and disseminate information on the extent of resources in the play, production capacity, reserves volumes, and other geological and reservoir characteristics.

Albertans are encouraged to participate in the review of the discussion paper, to provide input on and help shape the new regulatory approach. Feedback will be accepted until March 31, 2013. Visit for more information.

The ERCB is Alberta's primary energy regulator. In assessing the public interest, the ERCB has regard for public safety, environmental stewardship, and resource conservation.

See also GLOBE-Net article 'Defining Shale Gas Life Cycle: A framework for identifying and mitigating environmental impacts'

Customer comments

No comments were found for Regulating unconventional oil and gas in Alberta. Be the first to comment!