October 6, 2022

Alberta Geothermal Regulatory System Update

Alberta Geothermal Regulatory System Update

Alberta Geothermal Regulatory System Update

Alberta’s system for regulating geothermal resources is relatively new and is still being expanded. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) was completed this summer. Directive 089: Development of Geothermal Resources (the Guideline) and the provincial government enacted Rules for the development of geothermal resources regulation ( Rules). Both Guideline and Rules apply only to deep geothermal resources (i.e. resources that are below the ground water protection foundation) and are carried out according to Act on the Development of Geothermal Resources (GRDA).

Directive 089: Development of Geothermal Resources

The Guideline sets out AER requirements for the entire life cycle of geothermal development: initiation, construction, operation and closure. The AER’s approach to regulating geothermal development is similar to that used for oil and gas development, and many of the same requirements apply. Such, Guideline refers to a number of other AER directives that also apply to geothermal development.

The Guideline defines the various types of geothermal development and systems and identifies the necessary licenses and permits for geothermal wells, equipment and pipelines. There are technical requirements for well design, equipment and piping; inactive wells and facilities; shut-in of wells, equipment and pipelines; risk assessment; and induced seismicity determined in Guideline (and often with reference to other AER guidelines).

Other matters covered Guideline include requirements for converting an oil and gas well to a geothermal well; process for transferring licenses for geothermal wells, equipment and pipelines; and data archiving, measurement and reporting requirements.

Because Surface Rights Act does not apply to geothermal development, Guideline specifies what rights and consents must be obtained with respect to surface access. Equally, Guideline states that the applicant must have a geothermal lease from the government or permit documentation from the mineral owners (as applicable).

In particular, the licensee management program that applies to oil and gas development is also applicable to geothermal development. This means that geothermal resource development is subject to holistic licensee assessments, liability assessments and bond requirements.

Rules for the development of geothermal resources

The Rules establish geothermal resource development licensing requirements as well as operating standards. It also sets standards for recording, collecting and reporting data on geothermal wells and facilities.

The interpretation provisions are set out in Part 1 Rules. This section also incorporates by reference 26 AER guidelines that apply to the development of geothermal resources.

Part 2 Rules deals with applications, licenses, security and deviations. License eligibility requirements are listed in Part 6 and include compliance with AER guidelines in this regard. The Rules state that security may be required before the license is transferred. Security may also be required at any time the AER deems it appropriate to offset costs associated with the suspension, abandonment, or reclamation of a well, facility, or site; with providing the care and maintenance of a well, facility or site; or with other activities necessary to protect the public and the environment. § 13 Rules allows the licensee to seek a deviation from the requirements set out in Rules (as stated in Directive 089).

Part 3 Rules sets requirements for geothermal operations such as drilling, completion and well servicing. For example, shell and pipe requirements are specified; there is a requirement for a 3 km buffer around non-abandoned underground mines (400 m for abandoned mines); and marking requirements are established. The Rules it also establishes requirements for emergency preparedness and response.

A number of requirements in section 3 Rules address environmental issues. For example, there are a number of requirements for the storage of operating fluids, hydrocarbons, produced water, wastes from chemical processes or oil fields, and waste management. There are also spill prevention and air emission control requirements. For wells or facilities that are closer than 100 m to bodies of water, additional requirements are established to prevent spillage or leakage. There is a general requirement not to waste energy resources.

Part 4 Rules handles matters related to well sampling, testing, record keeping and reporting. Certain information, as enumerated in section 95 – such as completion details, core analysis samples and fluid analysis – is confidential for one year from the date of completion of drilling (although this may be extended at the licensee’s request). There is other information that must be made available to the public at any time (this is also set out in Part 95) and includes information on hydraulic fracturing fluids and fluids injected or produced from the well.

Suspension, abandonment and closure requirements are set out in Section 5 of the document Rules. As with oil and gas wells and facilities, the AER may set capping quotas that require a certain amount of work or money to be spent with respect to the capping of wells and facilities.

Overview of Alberta’s Geothermal Resource Regulatory System

Download a brief overview of Alberta’s geothermal regulatory system. This is a two-page document that provides an overview of the laws that apply to Alberta’s geothermal resources (both deep and shallow).

Geothermal Resources of Alberta

Geothermal Resources of Alberta

ELC published Gaining Steam: A Regulatory and Policy Framework for Geothermal Energy Development in Alberta in late 2020, which addresses the regulatory and policy frameworks for geothermal resources in Alberta and elsewhere. This webinar series complements our publication and focuses on:

May 31: Alberta Geothermal Regulatory Framework

June 7: Recommendations for geothermal law and regulation in Alberta

June 14: Geothermal Policy Support and Incentives

View recordings and download images here:

This webinar series was made possible by funding from


The Environmental Law Center (ELC) has sought strong and effective environmental law since its founding in 1982. ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information relating to natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to advocate for laws that sustain ecosystems and ensure a healthy environment, and to engage citizens in lawmaking and enforcement. Our vision is a society where our laws ensure an environment that sustains current and future generations and promotes healthy ecosystems.

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