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Environmental Regulatory Compliance Update During COVID-19

Environmental Regulatory Compliance Update During COVID-19
May 29, 2020

This bulletin updates our April 2020 Blakes Bulletin: Environmental Regulatory Compliance in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec During COVID-19 and discusses the numerous environmental programs and regulatory changes implemented throughout Canada in May 2020, both as a direct result of federal funding and irrespective of federal funding.

NEW FEDERAL FUNDING TO SUPPORT CLEANING UP OIL AND GAS SITES IN WESTERN CANADA

As part of Canada’s economic response to COVID-19, it has made up to C$1.7-billion dollars in grants available to Canada’s three western-most provinces to support the clean-up of inactive oil and gas sites.

In British Columbia, the C$120-million in grants made available is being used in the following three programs:

  • The Dormant Sites Reclamation Program will provide C$100-million to reclaim dormant well sites. This program will provide up to C$100,000, or 50 per cent of total costs, whichever is less
  • The Orphan Sites Supplemental Reclamation Program will provide C$15-million to reclaim orphan well sites where the operator is insolvent, no longer exists or cannot be located
  • The Legacy Sites Reclamation Program will provide C$5-million to address legacy impacts of historical oil and gas activities that continue to have impacts on the environment or on the traditional use by Indigenous peoples

Applications for the Dormant Sites Reclamation Program opened on May 25, 2020, and the program received over 1,100 applications for over C$152-million worth of proposed reclamation work—oversubscribed by C$52-million—on the first day. Application dates for the Orphan Sites Supplemental Program and Legacy Sites Reclamation and have yet to be released. For more information, please see the Government of B.C.’s website.

Alberta will receive approximately C$1-billion in federal grants and is using those monies as part of its Site Rehabilitation Program to address its approximately 91,000 inactive well sites. The first phase of the program, which was announced on May 1, 2020, and has recently closed, involved almost 37,000 applications for C$100-million of funding. The second phase of the program involves another C$100-million in funding and applications are being accepted from May 21, 2020, to June 18, 2020. Subsequent phases involving the remaining C$800-million will be announced in the future. For more information, please see the Government of Alberta’s website.

Saskatchewan will receive approximately C$400-million and will use those monies as part of its Accelerated Site Closure Program to abandon and reclaim up to 8,000 inactive wells and facilities. The program will also be rolled out in phases. Phase 1 will allocate up to C$100-million in funding to Saskatchewan service companies contracted to do the abandonment and reclamation work and is expected to begin in June 2020. For more information, please see the Government of Saskatchewan’s website.

CANADA EXTENDS THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTING GHG REPORTS

On May 2, 2020, an amendment was published to allow those who are subject to the Notice with respect to reporting of greenhouse gases (GHGs) for 2019 more time to comply. The amendment extends the deadline for submitting GHG reports for the 2019 calendar year from June 1, 2020, to July 31, 2020.

Ontario, which, in 2020, harmonized its GHG reporting regime with the federal regime, has recently passed O.Reg 218/20 offering parallel relief.

B.C. OIL AND GAS COMMISSION IMPOSES NEW PENALTIES UNDER THE DORMANCY AND SHUTDOWN REGULATION

B.C.’s Dormancy and Shutdown Regulation (D&S Regulation) requires permit holders to decommission, assess onsite contamination, remediate and restore dormant oil and gas well sites within specified timelines. Under the D&S Regulation, a well site is considered dormant if it does not produce for at least 720 hours per year during five consecutive years. The D&S Regulation creates four categories of dormant wells based on factors, including the date a well became dormant and potential impacts of delayed restoration on Indigenous, agricultural and environmental interests.

On May 11, 2020, OIC 235/2020 was approved. OIC 235/2020 introduced administrative penalties for failure to comply with the D&S Regulation. Depending on a dormant well’s categorization under the D&S Regulation, the maximum administrative penalty for failing to comply with decommission, assessment or restoration timelines ranges from C$100,000 to C$500,000. Administrative penalties of up to C$50,000 may be imposed for failing to file an annual work plan or failing to provide notice to interested parties of an annual work plan or an intention to begin work.

ALBERTA SUSPENDS NUMEROUS ENVIRONMENTAL-RELATED OIL AND GAS MONITORING REQUIREMENTS

On May 1, 2020, as a result of COVID-19, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suspended several requirements in force under Directive 058: Oilfield Waste Management Requirements for the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry, Directive 071: Emergency Preparedness and Response Requirement for the Petroleum Industry and Interim Directive 2003-01. The impacted requirements include:

  • Suspension of requirements to conduct spring 2020 groundwater or soil monitoring events and analyses for all oilfield waste management facilities (under Directive 058)
  • Suspension of requirement for laboratory analysis of leachate collection system sampling and leak detection system sampling for oilfield waste management facilities (under Directive 058)
  • Deferral of annual testing for the 2020 calendar year, unless otherwise required by the AER, after a non-serious surface casing vent flow has been reported (under Interim Directive 2003-01)
  • Suspension of the requirement to hold emergency response exercises and submit updates to emergency response plans (under Directive 071)

On May 20, 2020, under Decision 20200520A and Decision 20200520B, the AER also suspended a long list of monitoring and associated activities related to approvals for in situ oil sands, and conventional oil and gas operators issued under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), the Water Act (WA), and the Public Lands Act. Highlights include the suspension of the following:

  • Fugitive emissions Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs, carried out by third-party contractors, except for methane monitoring requirements
  • All testing and analysis of surface water quality projects except for surface water releases to the environment
  • All 2020 groundwater and soil monitoring requirements under EPEA approvals except for any monitoring necessary to protect human health and ecological receptors until September 30, 2020. By that date the monitoring requirements must resume with at least one monitoring event occurring in 2020
  • All reclamation and wetland monitoring programs for oil sands projects
  • At oil sands operations, all wildlife monitoring programs, including research programs, population estimates and presence studies (for example, eDNA programs), although operational mitigation and deterrent programs are to remain in place to protect wildlife and migratory/non-migratory birds
  • All groundwater sampling requirements under the WA licences and approvals
  • All Quality Assurance Plan Audits and verifications

For more information, please see the AER’s Relief for Industry During COVID-19 Pandemic Response.

NO RELIEF FROM MONITORING AND REPORTING IN ONTARIO

Ontario, through O.Reg. 73/20, extended limitation periods and other legislated timelines related to legal proceedings. The emergency order does not apply to timelines unrelated to legal proceedings, such as any monitoring or reporting obligations. The Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (Ministry) has not formalized any relief from these obligations, though the Ministry purports to recognize the impact the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the regulated community and has stated it is committed to finding practical solutions in situations where temporary relief from regulatory requirements is needed, on a case-by-case basis.

QUEBEC IMPLEMENTS A VARIETY OF MEASURES

The Quebec Ministry of the Environment and Fight against Climate Change (MELCC) has issued additional guidance on its website with respect to its response to the COVID-19 state of emergency, including:

  • Applications for ministerial environmental authorizations and Declarations of Compliance will continue to be processed. Applications submitted in paper format will be processed as soon as possible, while applications filed electronically currently cannot be accepted. Time granted to respond to information requests made by the MELCC Regional Offices has been modified and may be extended. For Declarations of Compliance filing a paper format, at least 30 days before the work begins is preferred. If that is not possible, the declaration can be submitted electronically. In addition to payment by cheque or money order, bank transfers from businesses and municipalities to pay for application fees will be accepted.
  • Field inventories and studies prior to filing an environmental authorization application for a project that is listed as a priority service or activity can be carried out.
  • Filing of new applications for a permit or certificate for the sale and use of pesticides electronically is preferred. Permits and certificates for the sale and use of pesticides that were not renewed before April 30, 2020, and that expire between March 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020, are automatically extended for six months free of charge. The extension does not apply to temporary permits. The public registry will be updated to reflect the new expiry dates.
  • The Quebec Environmental Impact Assessment process continues to apply. For new Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) mandates, the consultation and public participation process will be announced for each project as the mandate advances. Given that public assemblies are currently not permitted, pilot projects are planned in order to determine the best method for holding meetings.
  • Delays in the payment of annual fees and the filing of the annual report, normally due on April 1 of the given year, for an Industrial establishment Authorization (formerly Depollution Attestations) will be considered. There will also be a temporary suspension of the renewal process for such authorizations, if requested.
  • The deadline to submit emissions reports required by the Regulation respecting mandatory reporting of certain emissions of contaminants into the atmosphere has been extended from June 1, 2020, until July 31, 2020.
  • Leniency will be exercised for delays in the submission of the 2019 water withdrawal declarations, normally due by March 31, 2020. Until further notice, no interest or penalties will be imposed for late payment of 2019 charges payable for the use of water.
  • Tolerance with respect to surface and groundwater sampling program requirements will be exercised, as the capacity of labs to carry out analysis may be limited.
  • Additional time can be granted for the transmission of air sampling reports and the transmission of air emissions data by contacting the MELCC Regional Office.
  • The MELCC will tolerate delays in the transmission of residual hazardous material annual reports and the first quarter declaration of the volume of hazardous materials which are normally due on April 30 of the given year.
  • The filing requirement for a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment after a designated activity permanently ceases may be extended from six months to 18 months after cessation, upon request.

For further information, please contact any member of our Environmental group, or your usual Blakes contact.

Please visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre to learn more about how COVID-19 may impact your business.