Inspections & Audits

Inspections of energy facilities are one way the AER ensures that rules and regulations are followed, and safety hazards are identified and addressed.

The AER has comprehensive requirements that a company must satisfy before an application can be approved. If an application is deficient, there are processes in place to identify concerns, providing the applicant an opportunity to complete and satisfy the requirements before a final decision is made. Once a project has been approved, the AER has strict requirements to ensure that energy projects are constructed and operated safely. The AER annually inspects a portion of Alberta's operating wells; production and processing facilities; and pipelines. Field staff enforces standards and conditions set out in licences; approvals; and AER rules, regulations, and requirements.

The AER employs 70 field inspectors 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 (for operator, sensitivity and inherent risk):

  • operator (licensee/contractor) history
  • sensitivity of the location
  • 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 terrain (forested or agricultural), proximity to bodies of water, and/or high frequency of prior environmental incidents in the area. 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 the type of resource (sweet or sour).

AER Inspections of Sour Gas Facilities and Operations
The frequency and timing of inspections of sour gas facilities and operations are based on the OSI system weighting of operator history, sensitivity of the location, and inherent risk of the facility or operation.

For example, the AER 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.

AER field staff applies consistent enforcement actions for any noncompliance of AER requirements. If problems are found, operations can be suspended until the situation is corrected.

Regulatory Audits
In addition to inspections, regulatory audits provide a detailed examination of an operator's compliance with AER requirements. While audits of energy projects are initially conducted during the AER'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 AER believes in collaboration and ongoing dialogue with those who have a stake in the safety and environmental impacts of energy development in Alberta. The AER is committed to taking a proactive approach listening to the public's ideas and concerns on issues associated with energy development in order to establish a strong relationship between the public and the AER, and improve incident response and follow-up measures.