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Northback Holdings response to AER’s review process

February 22, 2024

On February 22, 2024, AWA was cc’d on correspondence from Northback Holdings Corporation to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) regarding the regulator’s review process. An abridged version of the letter is copied below:

“We are legal counsel to Northback and are writing with respect to the Applications. Specifically, Northback wishes to reiterate the short-term and small-scale nature of the Applications and to request that the Alberta Energy Regulator (“AER”) take expeditious steps to advance the review process and approve the Applications without further regulatory process and delay.”

“It is exceptionally rare for a hearing to be held in connection with an exploration program such as the CEP. Our understanding is that this has only occurred once before, even though hundreds, if not thousands, of exploration drilling programs have been previously approved by the AER. The AER’s Teck Exploration Program Decision confirmed that exploration programs are consistent with the statutory purpose of the Oil Sands Conservation Act ‘to effect conservation and prevent waste of the oil sands resources of Alberta; to ensure orderly, efficient and economical development in the public interest of the oil sands resources of Alberta; and to provide for the appraisal of Alberta’s oil sands resources.’ The same reasoning applies in this case. The Coal Conservation Act contains the exact same statutory purposes: ‘to effect conservation, and prevent waste, of the coal resources of Alberta; to ensure orderly, efficient and economic development of Alberta’s coal resources in the public interest; and to provide for the appraisal of Alberta’s coal resources.'”

“In conclusion, there is no basis for any further regulatory review of, or ongoing delay associated with, the Applications. Evaluating the extent of Alberta’s steelmaking coal reserves is clearly in the public interest and the CEP will not result in any material environmental effects.”

“Therefore, Northback requests that the AER make an expeditious determination pursuant to section 33 of the Responsible Energy Development Act that no hearing is necessary to decide whether the Applications should be approved, and proceed to approve the Applications. The factors set out in section 7 of the AER Rules of Practice support such a determination. There is no credible basis for a hearing in advance of a determination of the Applications: no further information is required by the AER; the environmental effects are minimal; there is no Water Act application associated with the CEP that will impact other users; there are no outstanding Indigenous consultation issues; the SOCs, to the extent any are relevant to the CEP, do not establish the need for a hearing; and an exploration program is a routine and well-understood activity. The AER should rely on its expertise in assessing the CEP instead of deferring to a public hearing process when one is not warranted in advance of a decision.”

The full letter can be accessed here.


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