Testing new drilling rules
Canadian Natural Resources, the largest producer of heavy oil in Canada, is trying an end run by seeking a combined regulatory approval for 47 wells in Alberta.
The application to the Alberta Energy Regulator will put to the test a new pilot program that allows producers to bundle multiple activities.
If approval is granted CNR will be able to drill and complete the wells on six multi-well pads and one single-well pad, while combining the drilling with seven bitumen crude batteries, access roads and associated gas pipelines to supply needed fuel.
The company said all of the prospective lands are located about 25 miles northwest of Cold Lake in eastern Alberta.
A spokeswoman for CNR said in a letter to the regulatory agency that the process will “improve the effectiveness and efficiency” of discussions with stakeholders by allowing them to consider potential development plans for the area over the next five years.
But the argument also clashes with the anticipated results of an AER investigation into four bitumen leaks from a CNR oil sands project in 2013 that has already saddled the company with C$40 million in cleanup costs.
An AER spokeswoman said the CNR application is the second under the new regulations since Suncor Energy applied for a similar approval at its Meadow Creek thermal oil sands project about 30 miles south of Fort McMurray.
She said the agency is ready to consider single applications for multiple activities, allowing Albertans and the AER to weigh the combined environmental impacts.
However, Duncan Kenyon, a director of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, an environmental watchdog, said the AER should have issued a public report on the positives and negatives of an earlier pilot program before extending it to other areas of the province.
- GARY PARK