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New legislation to clarify rules for geothermal development in Alberta, Canada

Calgary skyline with Saddle Dome, Calgary, Alberta (source: flickr/ Stephen Desroches, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 21 Oct 2020

New legislation will clarify rules for geothermal energy development in the Province of Alberta in Canada. It will build in the strong experience and track record of the province's responsible resource development and helping to diversify the province’s economy.

With new groundwork being done for pushing geothermal development in the Province of Alberta, we reported on last week, details on the new legislation have now been shared.

The new legislation will clarify rules for geothermal energy development, building on Alberta’s strong track record of responsible resource development and helping to diversify the province’s economy. (Geothermal Resource Development Act, pdf)

If passed, Bill 36, the Geothermal Resource Development Act will:

  • Outline rules and processes for industry.
  • Establish the legislative authority for land use and liability management.
  • Protect landowners and mineral rights owners.

Alberta is uniquely positioned to attract investment in this emerging industry because of its geothermal resources, leadership in drilling technology and extensive oil and gas expertise. However, development has been limited as, without a specific regulatory framework, geothermal project applications have been assessed on a case-by-case basis, which is inefficient for both industry and government.

“Encouraging the development of low-emitting geothermal energy will play an important role in Alberta’s economic recovery by attracting investment and creating jobs in this emerging sector. Through this legislation, we are establishing a clear path forward for geothermal projects, while ensuring the resource is developed responsibly and in the best interests of Albertans, including landowners.” – Sonya Savage, Minister of Energy.

“The Alberta government continues to foster innovation through smart policy, recognizing the future of geothermal energy. FutEra Power, a subsidiary of Razor Energy, will build Canada’s first co-produced geothermal power plant in Swan Hills. We intend to be a leader in energy transition including the utilization of legacy assets to harvest natural resources, such as geothermal heat from existing oil and gas production. With our world-class regulatory and policy frameworks, accompanied with Alberta’s legendary enterprising citizens, transformative projects like this will flourish. This evolving geothermal policy will build confidence for those seeking to invest in the cleaner and greener future of Alberta.” – Lisa Mueller, president, FutEra Power (a subsidiary of Razor Energy)

“Utilization of Alberta’s vast geothermal energy to create a new industry for Alberta is something whose time has come. As Alberta’s first conventional deep geothermal project, Alberta No. 1 is utilizing as much existing expertise and as many companies as possible, retraining and retooling them for deployment in the geothermal sector. Having clear regulatory guidelines to follow will help move the industry forward more rapidly. They are a welcome addition to the existing positive geological and business setting Alberta has to offer for a nascent geothermal industry.” – Catherine Hickson, CEO, Alberta No .1, and vice-president, Geothermal Canada

Modelled after the Oil and Gas Conservation Act, this legislation would provide the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) with the authority to regulate the safe, efficient and responsible development of Alberta’s geothermal resources. The legislation clarifies industry requirements, establishes the AER’s oversight authority, and establishes government’s ability to receive revenues, such as royalties and fees, for geothermal development.

To help inform the next steps of implementing this policy and regulatory framework, the government is planning to hold discussions with key groups in the near future.

Quick facts

Geothermal energy is the natural heat that originates from the Earth. It can be used for heating and cooling or to generate clean electricity.

Alberta has a number of advantages to develop geothermal energy, including:

  • a natural geological advantage
  • the opportunity to repurpose inactive oil and gas wells, well sites and infrastructure
  • leadership in drilling technology
  • extensive oil and gas expertise, as well as a well-established service sector

This legislation establishes the framework to regulate geothermal development below the base of groundwater protection, which is the depth groundwater transitions from non-saline to saline. Alberta Environment and Parks will continue to regulate shallow geothermal development, which occurs above the base of groundwater protection.

Bill 36 creates the Geothermal Resource Development Act, and amends several existing acts, including:

  • Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
  • Mines and Minerals Act
  • Oil and Gas Conservation Act
  • Pipeline Act
  • Responsible Energy Development Act

Source: Government of Alberta