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‘How a Fox would design a henhouse’: Alberta rural leaders on oil well cleanup plan

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The head of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta says an oil and gas industry proposal to grant the industry royalty credits to clean up abandoned wells is like having the fox design the henhouse.

Paul McLauchlin also says the proposed RStar program would have such profound implications for future revenues that it deserves to be a ballot issue.

“Is (RStar) for Albertans or is it for the industry?” McLauchlin said Thursday. “When I look at it, it is exactly how a fox would design a henhouse.”

He made the comment after United Conservative cabinet ministers heard criticism from rural political leaders about the RStar program at the association’s fall convention.

“I always want to stay in my lane, but at the same time we’re stewards of the land, and we represent 85 per cent of the province (geographically),” said McLauchlin.

“From our members, you heard a real pushback saying, ‘You’re (proposing) using public money to actually promote something that you’re obligated to (do) just by operating these facilities.’

“Our members didn’t seem convinced today.”

McLauchlin said Albertans deserve a direct say on RStar.

“If you’re dealing with future royalties, you should actually make that an election (or) referendum conversation,” he said.

“(If) you’re taking your great-great grandchildren, your grandchildren’s future payments and you’re using them now to promote reclamation, that’s a big discussion all Albertans need to have.”

Earlier this week, Energy Minister Peter Guthrie confirmed his department is studying RStar, which would encourage the cleanup of old wells and drilling of new ones by granting royalty credits on new production based on remediation spending.

Guthrie said an announcement is weeks, if not months, away.

Estimates suggest that if RStar grants the $20 billion in credits industry is seeking, Alberta taxpayers would forgo $5 billion in revenue.

RStar has been widely criticized by energy economists, who say it would transfer money to companies who don’t need it to do work that most are doing anyway. They say energy companies are already legally obliged to clean up their mess.

Previous government programs to help pay for well cleanup came when prices were low. That is no longer the case with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil price currently hovering around a lofty US$90 a barrel.

Proponents say the program would encourage new drilling, help clean up Alberta’s 170,000 abandoned wells and create jobs.

Premier Danielle Smith, in a speech to the association Thursday, did not mention RStar specifically but said, “We are working on finding a long-term solution to cleaning up unused well sites so that we can also put that land back into production.”

Smith spoke strongly in support of RStar last year when she was a lobbyist for the Alberta Enterprise Group, representing some of the province’s largest businesses.

RStar was rebuffed at that time by then-energy minister Sonya Savage on the grounds RStar wouldn’t fit within Alberta’s current royalty structure and would violate the polluter-pay principle, which is one of the foundations of environmental regulation.

Savage was moved out of the energy portfolio by Smith two weeks ago to a new post as minister of environment and protected areas.

Smith reiterated in a recent interview that she still champions RStar.

“I know that (RStar) will be a way we can clean up some of our legacy well sites,” she told the Western Standard in a livestreamed interview Oct. 21.

“It’s creating a black eye for us internationally, and I’m highly motivated for us to figure out a process to reclaim those wells all the way through to the end.”

The Opposition NDP said it’s concerning to see a policy promoted by Smith the lobbyist and rejected by the government now reopened under Smith the premier.

McLauchlin said he, too, is trying to understand why a policy dismissed by the former UCP energy minister is now back on the table for the new UCP energy minister.

“It’s quite confusing what’s changed between now and then,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

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Alberta

TC Energy shuts down Keystone pipeline system after leak in Nebraska

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CALGARY — TC Energy Corp. says it has shut down its Keystone pipeline after a leak in Nebraska.

The company says it has mobilized people and equipment in response to a confirmed release of oil into a creek, about 32 kilometres south of Steele City, Neb.

TC Energy says an emergency shutdown and response was initiated Wednesday night after a pressure drop in the system was detected.

It says the affected segment of the pipeline has been isolated and booms have been deployed to prevent the leaked oil from moving downstream.

The Keystone pipeline system stretches 4,324 kilometres and helps move Canadian and U.S. crude oil to markets around North America.

TC Energy says the system remains shutdown as its crews respond and work to contain and recover the oil.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TRP)

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Alberta

Two deputy chief medical officers resign from their positions with Alberta Health

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Edmonton – Alberta’s two deputy chief medical officers of health are leaving their roles — less than a month after Dr. Deena Hinshaw was removed as the province’s top doctor.

Health Minister Jason Copping confirmed during question period Wednesday that both of the doctors have submitted letters of resignation.

“They are still continuing to work at this point in time,” he said in the legislature. “We are in the process of actually looking to fill those roles.”

A statement from Alberta Health said Dr. Rosana Salvaterra and Dr. Jing Hu, who are listed as public health physicians on the department’s website, have given notice.

When reached by her department email, Salvaterra responded: “Unfortunately, we are not able to comment.”

She later added that she respects and admires both Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Hu.

“They are brilliant, hard-working, and compassionate public health physicians and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside them for these past 14 months.”

Salvaterra, who has extensive public health experience including as the medical officer of health for Peterborough, Ont., joined the office in October 2021.

Her career in public health includes work in “the COVID-19 response, mental health, the opioid response, women’s health, poverty reduction, health equity, community food security and building stronger relationships with First Nations.”

Hu’s out-of-office message said her “last day at work with Alberta Health was Nov. 18, 2022,” and noted she wouldn’t have access to the department email after that date.

She got extensive training in China and at the University of Calgary before joining the health department in January 2020.

Their resignations came within a month of Hinshaw, who became the face of Alberta’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, being removed from her position.

Hinshaw was replaced by Dr. Mark Joffe, a senior executive member of Alberta Health Services, on an interim basis.

“Dr. Joffe will be supported by medical officers of health within AHS, by other staff in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and by the Public Health Division,” said the statement from Alberta Health late Wednesday.

“We expect these changes to have no impact on the department’s and Dr. Joffe’s ability to meet the requirements of the Public Health Act.”

Hinshaw’s dismissal didn’t come as a surprise.

Premier Danielle Smith announced on her first day in office in October that she would be replaced.

Smith has made it clear that she blames both Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of the bad decisions were made by Alberta Health Services on the basis of bad advice from the chief medical officer of health,” Smith told reporters on Oct. 22.

Smith has not placed the blame on front-line doctors and nurses but broadly on AHS senior management. Joffe, while serving as chief medical officer of health, retains his role in AHS senior management as a vice-president responsible for areas in cancer and clinical care.

Hinshaw, an Alberta-trained public health specialist, became a celebrity of sorts in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, as she delivered regular, sometimes daily, updates to Albertans on the virus, its spread and methods to contain it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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