June 4, 2019

Pursuit of a sustainable future leads to storied career in natural resources, energy and environmental law

Nigel Bankes celebrated for his leadership with Killam Annual Professor award.

Since 1984, Nigel Bankes has worked with seven deans, had an office in two different buildings, gone through a major building renovation, supervised more than 30 graduate students, and has seen more than 2,500 students graduate from the law school.

Stacks of papers and books are piled around his office, a testament to his impact on the field of natural resources, energy and environmental law, which includes more than 125 academic articles, 10 books which he as co-edited or written, and hundreds of case comments, book reviews, blogs and other publicly accessible pieces of scholarship.

He has been busy since coming to Calgary.

Research with local and international impact

Bankes’ work covers a broad compass of law and policy. He is known around the globe for his work on legal and policy issues related to the Arctic, the Columbia River Treaty, and the resource rights of Indigenous peoples. Closer to home, he is recognized for his contributions to Canadian oil and gas law, water law issues in Western Canada, and the legal issues around carbon capture and storage. Bankes’ has been the Chair of Natural Resources Law for the past eight years, and is currently the vice-chair of the Canadian Institute for Resources Law. Most recently, Bankes has been recognized for his achievements with the Killam Annual Professorship for his excellence in research, mentorship, teaching.

“I always had a strong interest in the environment, but my graduate supervisor at the University of British Columbia, Andy Thompson, convinced me that I needed to understand the resources and energy industries if I really wanted to get at the drivers of environmental degradation and to identify opportunities for a more sustainable future,” explains Bankes.

Bankes’ research is often cited by the Canadian courts, most recently in the Supreme Court of Canada’s January 2019 decision Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Ltd. All levels of government, NGOs, First Nations and Indigenous organizations, law firms and corporations have used him as a legal expert and consultant. As UCalgary Law dean Dr. Ian Holloway describes him, “he is a multi-faceted scholar of the very finest type.”

"I have always considered myself fortunate insofar as mentors go, and Nigel's mentorship since I arrived at the law school in 2013 has been no exception,” says associate professor Martin Olszynski. “His deep knowledge of energy, environmental, and water law is without parallel in Canada. Equally important is his willingness to share that knowledge, as well as his own experiences ‘in the trenches,’ and to provide guidance when it is needed.” 

Excellence at the law school

Bankes’ work has made a huge impact on the growth of the law school itself, helping to situate the faculty as the leader in natural resources, energy and environmental law. Along with Professor Al Lucas, he led the creation and implementation of a dual-track thesis-based and course-based Master of Law program, which attract students from Canada and around the world.

Bankes has taught a wide range of compulsory and elective courses across all three years of the JD program and in the graduate program and he has twice received the Faculty of Law’s Howard Tidswell Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2018 the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation (U.S. and Canada) awarded Bankes the Clyde O Martz Teaching Award — a lifetime award for meritorious teaching in the area of natural resources law.

“My most rewarding teaching experience over the years was teaching first-year property law,” says Bankes. “Not because of the doctrines of property law, but because those doctrines and cases are a great vehicle for teaching legal reasoning and analytical skills; skills which will endure across a student’s entire career even if he or she forgets all of the detailed rules of property law.”

Any student who takes one of his courses feels Bankes’ impact on student learning and future career opportunities. As Michelle Jin, JD’19, explains, “Taking Energy Law with Professor Bankes in my last year of law school has shaped the attitude with which I will start my career. I was interested in the subject matter prior to taking the class, but the complexity of the law intimidated me. The course gave me the information and the confidence I needed, and heading into my articles, I am excited to learn more and do more work in this area.”

Bankes’ contributions to Canadian and international law, to the University of Calgary and the Faculty of Law, and to the broader community cannot be overstated. As Holloway explains, “he is the towering figure in his discipline.” He is the example of what we want the university to be: a community of scholars who produce clear, logical and thorough research on important and relevant issues, and who care about student growth and learning.