Inspections & Audits
The ERCB has comprehensive requirements that companies must satisfy before an application can be approved. If applications are deficient, there are processes in place to identify concerns so that an applicant has the opportunity to complete and satisfy the requirements before a final decision is made. Once a project has been approved, the ERCB has strict requirements to ensure that energy projects are constructed and operated safely. The ERCB annually inspects a portion of Alberta's operating wells, production and processing facilities, and pipelines. Field staff enforce standards and conditions set out in licences, approvals, and ERCB regulations and requirements.
The ERCB employs 70 field inspectors who are based in field centres throughout the province. They inspect construction, operation, and abandonment operations at oil, gas, and oil sands facilities (including pipelines, compressors, and processing plants).
Inspection activities are prioritized based on the weighting of three key criteria, referred to as OSI:
- operator (licensee/contractor) history,
- sensitivity of the location, and
- inherent risk of the project or operation.
An operator's compliance history allows field staff to focus on operators with previous unsatisfactory inspections. Sensitivity of the location is determined by considering such factors as whether the location is forested or agricultural, is in proximity to bodies of water, or is in an area where there has been a high frequency of environmental incidents. The inherent risk of a facility or operation is determined by reviewing specific technical details about the facility, such as the complexity of the operation and whether it is sweet or sour.
For more information on the ERCB's inspection system, see EnerFAQs 03: Inspections and Enforcement of Energy Developments in Alberta.
ERCB Inspections of Sour Gas Facilities and Operations
The frequency and timing of inspections of sour gas facilities and operations is based on the OSI system weighting of operator history, sensitivity of the location, and inherent risk of the facility or operation.
For example, the ERCB inspects all critical sour wells prior to drilling into the critical zone, the area where sour gas may be found. A critical sour well classification is determined by the well's proximity to people and its potential release of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) during drilling operations. The H2S release rate is calculated by using the H2S concentration and the maximum flow rate.
ERCB field staff apply consistent enforcement actions for any noncompliance of ERCB requirements. If problems are found, operations can be suspended until the situation is corrected.
In addition to inspections, regulatory audits provide a detailed examination of an operator's compliance with ERCB requirements. While audits of energy projects are initially conducted during the ERCB's application process, post-application operational audits are also conducted under certain conditions. Selection criteria for these audits include inspection results, public complaints, and risk potential related to a facility's operations.
Beyond regulatory enforcement, the ERCB believes in collaboration and ongoing dialogue with those who have a stake in the safety and environmental impacts of energy development in Alberta. The ERCB is committed to taking a proactive approach by listening to the public's ideas and concerns on issues associated with energy development.
This approach establishes a strong relationship between the public and the ERCB, as well as leading to improvements in incident response and follow-up measures.