Canada: Is The Play Still The Thing? – The Status Of Play-Based Regulation In Alberta

From low commodity prices to new climate change requirements and increased regulatory obligations arising from the Redwater Decision, the Alberta oil and gas industry finds itself in the eye of the storm. There is uncertainty for the future of pending energy projects in Alberta. As Borden Ladner Gervais LLP ("BLG")  wrote in February 2015, the Alberta Energy Regulator ("AER") launched its Play-Based Regulation ("PBR") Pilot Project to address cumulative effects of unconventional resource developments. Is this the answer to industry's current woes and what is the current status of PBR?

In September 2014, AER launched a pilot (the "PBR Pilot") in the Fox Creek area to test a new approach to regulate unconventional oil and gas development. The PBR Pilot is an integrated application process that allows energy companies to submit one application for all activities under an energy development project, instead of submitting separate applications for each activity. Energy companies are required to engage stakeholders for the entire project plan instead of for each individual well. This also allows the AER to better understand the broader impacts of projects to ensure steps are taken to minimize potential impacts on the environment, communities, and stakeholders. The PBR Pilot is an initiative under the Energy Resources Conservation Board's Unconventional Regulatory Framework discussion paper released in 2012, which described a play-focused approach to regulation.

To facilitate the PBR Pilot, the AER created Manual 009: Play-Based Regulation Pilot Application Guide, which sets out the information that must be included in an application under the pilot. Participation by operators is voluntary and many companies have taken advantage of the process. The AER provides a list of Play-Based Regulation Decisions for energy development activities under the PBR Pilot. The AER also provides in Notices of Application that the application is being submitted as part of a pilot to allow applicants to apply for multiple activities under a single application. Note that the PBR Pilot is for approvals under the Oil and Gas Conservation Act, Pipeline Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Public Lands Act, and Water Act to construct, operate, and reclaim a project. It does not apply to applications for oil sands scheme under the Oil Sands Conservation Act.

Among the most recent oil sands project applications under the PBR Pilot is Suncor Energy Inc.'s Meadow Creek East in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area designed to recover (80 000 barrels per day from the McMurray Formation using steam-assisted gravity drainage ("SAGD") technology. The PBR Pilot application is for more than 1,500 wells, a central processing facility, stormwater ponds, pipelines, roads and land access, among other components. In a recent interview with Calgary Herald, Jim Ellis, the Chief Executive of the AER, was quoted to have said that PBR Pilot process would cut the application review from six or seven years down to a single year and would save Suncor about $64 million. Following Suncor was Canadian Natural Resources Limited's application to construct, drill, complete, and operate 47 wells on six multi-well pads and one single-well pad, associated multi-well bitumen batteries, access roads, gas pipelines for on-site fuel use and transport and sale of excess gas in the Cold Lake Oil Sands Area.

Earlier this month, new oil sands schemes, said to represent about $4 billion of potential investment into Alberta's economy and about 95,000 barrels per day of production, received initial approval from the Government of Alberta following the AER's recommendation pursuant to the Oil Sands Conservation Act. Among them are Blackpearl Resources Inc.'s Blackrod oil sands steam-assisted gravity drainage ("SAGD") project in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area and Surmont Energy Ltd.'s Wildwood oil sands SAGD project in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area. The project proponents will now work with the AER on specific licences and approvals.

The PBR Pilot is said to be the first step towards a proposed new framework for regulating oil and gas development in the province. In June 2016, the AER evaluated the PBR Pilot, and issued its findings in a report: Evaluation of the Alberta Energy Regulator's Play-based Regulation Pilot.

Key findings from the AER's June report respecting PBR included:

  • while not all of the benefits and objectives of PBR have been realized, it resulted in incremental progress, particularly respecting the development of, and greater efficiencies for, the integrated single application and single approval decision process;
  • progress was made toward reducing the cumulative effects of surface disturbances and water management in the pilot area;
  • proponents applied for water licences rather than temporary diversion licences;
  • surface disturbances were reduced in the pilot area;
  • there are further opportunities to develop and refine PBR as a regulatory framework.

The AER is confident that the PBR concept can be refined, albeit with legislative and regulatory changes to fully implement the PBR concept. Development of the play-based approach may enable future pilots and broader implementation of a play or area-based regulation approach across Alberta.

Implications for Industry

Regulating energy development on a play level rather than an activity-by-activity level requires an adjustment from the oil and gas industry. While the PBR Pilot was not able to achieve all of its intended objectives, the AER is clear that the PBR concept can be further implemented to realize benefits. Potential benefits to monitor in future include greater clarity respecting minimum application requirements as well as further administrative efficiencies by eliminating duplication, providing certainty about review timelines, and optimizing the single approval decision process. If Shakespeare's adage that "what's past is only prologue", it may well be that the play remains the thing to facilitate greater regulatory efficiencies for the AER's application and approval process.

About BLG

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.