Developed with a 50-year outlook in mind, the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan 2014-2024 ("SSRP") will go into effect on September 1, 2014. The SSRP has four key components:
- An Introduction, including the purpose of the regional plan, land-use planning and decision-making in Alberta and how the regional plan will inform land-use decisions.
- A Strategic Plan, including the vision for the future of the region along with desired regional outcomes. It builds on existing policies and initiatives by establishing a set of strategic directions that help achieve the regional vision and outcomes.
- An Implementation Plan, including regional objectives, strategies and actions that will be undertaken to support achievement of the regional vision and outcomes and indicators to measure and evaluate progress.
- Regulatory Details to enable achieving the strategic direction and strategies and actions. It contains information regarding the mandatory (i.e., regulated) actions that land-use decision makers and users must comply with in order for the vision and outcomes to be achieved for the region.
In terms of its legal effect, pursuant to section 13 of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act ("ALSA"), regional plans are legislative instruments and, for the purposes of any other enactment, are considered to be regulations. However, a regional plan may provide rules of application and interpretation, including specifying which parts of the regional plan are enforceable as law and which parts are statements of public policy or a direction of the Government that is not intended to have binding legal effect.
As a result, the SSRP states that the "Regulatory Details" are enforceable as law and bind the Crown, decision-makers, local government bodies, and subject to section 15.2 of the ALSA, all other persons. However, except as otherwise provided in the Regulatory Details, the Introduction, Implementation Plan, Strategic Plan, Glossary of Terms and Appendices are not intended to have binding legal effect and are statements of policy to inform the Crown, decision-makers, local government bodies and all other persons of the regional plan.
The SSRP includes strategies for responsible energy and surface material development, sustainable farming and ranching, forest management, and nature-based tourism.
To protect critical watersheds and habitats and to provide new recreational opportunities in the region, the SSRP creates:
- Eight new or expanded conservation areas, including a new 54,588-hectare Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the 34,356-hectare Pekisko Heritage Rangeland;
- Two new and six expanded provincial parks and recreation areas, adding 1,511 hectares; and
- 12 new primitive recreation areas for camping and trail access.
The plan takes important steps to protect Alberta's intact native grasslands. The SSRP extends grazing leases for ranchers demonstrating strong stewardship practices from 10 to 20 years. The SSRP also includes guidelines to manage sales of public lands and minimize conversion of intact native grasslands, and will explore options for new conservation areas.
Key to the SSRP is a new approach for managing the impacts of development on land, air, water and biodiversity. Environmental management frameworks will set strict environmental limits. This includes management frameworks for ensuring air and water quality as well as a commitment to develop a biodiversity management framework. These frameworks are intended to complement andnot replace, existing policies, legislation and regulations.
Impact of the SRP on Energy Development
In terms of the SSRP's specific provisions of interest to the energy industry, there are three main focus areas: 1) petroleum and natural gas, coal and minerals; 2) renewable energy; and 3) corridors for the co-location of linear infrastructure.
1) Petroleum and Natural Gas, Coal and Minerals:
The SSRP will ensure rules regarding access to energy and processing and transportation of energy resources are clear and that economic development opportunities are appropriately considered against other land uses and values. The SSRP will also ensure that physical access to freehold petroleum and natural gas, coal and minerals is maintained.
The impacts of the SSRP on existing oil and gas facilities should be negligible, as the ability to exercise existing rights, and to renew these rights, will be subject to the current review and application process. However, applications for new facilities will be reviewed to ensure compliance with the SSRP. Pursuant to s. 20 of the Responsible Energy Development Act and s. 15 of the ALSA, noted above, as a "decision-maker" the Alberta Energy Regulator ("AER") is required to act in accordance with any regional plan, such as the SSRP. As a result, in the event that an application is not in compliance the SSRP, the AER may order an applicant to comply prior to granting an approval.
As noted above, the SSRP contains significant mandatory monitoring protocols for air and surface water quality. Specifically, these include prescribed limits for air particulates and the presence of certain chemicals in surface water. Upon these limits being exceeded, the SSRP enables the Minister to issue notices to the appropriate decision-makers, which may include the AER. Such a notice must identify the activity creating the exceedance and may provide direction as to specific actions that must be taken by the decision-maker to reduce the exceedance.
2) Renewable Energy:
The SSRP will ensure policies are in place to promote and remove barriers to new investments in renewable energy production. The SSRP also includes commitments to invest in the development, demonstration and deployment of renewable and alternative energy technologies. Lastly, the SSRP ensures the Government's commitment to the reinforcement of the transmission system to enable more renewable power in the region.
3) Corridors for the Co-location of Linear Infrastructure:
The SSRP states that the Government intends to continue to work to ensure the existence of long-range economic opportunities related to linear infrastructure continues. Therefore, if in the public interest, the Cabinet may declare any area under its jurisdiction to be part of a multi-use corridor by amending the regional plan or by applying provisions of other legislation such as the Land Assembly Project Area Act.
As a result, the SSRP ensures that opportunities for future routes and siting for pipeline gateways, transportation corridors and utility and electrical transmission corridors are maintained and are consistent with the needs of adjacent Land-use Framework regions. The SSRP also requires Government to work with municipalities, landowners and industry to explore multi-use corridors for co-location of linear infrastructure.
The SSRP is designed to address land use planning issues throughout much of Southern Alberta over the next decade. It will be binding on future energy development in the region and so we will be closely monitoring implementation of the SSRP and will provide timely comments on developments as they arise.
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.