Jan. 19, 2018

Public Interest Law Clinic to support Alberta farmers in Supreme Court hearing

Alberta Farmers Join the Fray in Redwater Energy Case.

Frustrated by Alberta court rulings that hold the law protects banks instead of farmers and ranchers, a small group of southern Alberta landowners threw their hat in the ring and asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear from them directly when it considers the highly-anticipated Redwater Energy matter next month.

The Supreme Court of Canada definitely wants to hear from them. In a decision released today, Justice Russell Brown granted Taber-based Action Surface Rights Association (ASRA) permission to provide the landowner's perspective to the Court in the appeal it will hear on February 15, 2018.

In the Redwater Energy case, the Alberta Courts decided that insolvent oil and gas operators can walk away from all abandonment, remediation and reclamation duties for oil and gas wells if it saves money for the company's creditors.

In Alberta, most landowners don't control which companies gets to drill for oil on their land. The ASRA is a society formed by landowners for landowners to help each other navigate the complexities of dealing with energy development on their land. The fallout from the Redwater Energy decisions alarmed them.

"Landowners are left holding the bag when wells aren't sealed up or reclaimed properly. Actually in the end it's the Canadian public holding the bag, because the Alberta courts just said the land we use to grow your food can be left at risk and unreclaimed by an oil and gas company if it suits the bank that loaned that company money," says Daryl Bennett, a canola seed farmer and director of the ASRA. "This is a great example of privatizing gains and socializing losses," he adds.

The ASRA took action following a rash of operator insolvencies and spreading word that landowners were receiving letters from the receiver-managers of insolvent oil and gas companies refusing to take responsibility for any energy infrastructure on and under the landowner's property, including surface leases. The ASRA worked with the Public Interest Law Clinic at the University of Calgary to craft its intervention before Canada's highest court.

"This leave decision is a boon to rural landowners," say Shaun Fluker and Christine Laing, counsel for ASRA, "we believe the Alberta courts made serious errors in the Redwater case, and our hope is that the people most affected by the case can play a positive role in helping the Supreme Court correct it."

Further reading:

Farmers to address Supreme Court in fight against abandoned wells, National Post, January 18, 2018