Alberta farmers completing EFPs are rethinking environmental issues and energy company activity
One of the common questions from producers participating in Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workshops is about environmental responsibilities in resource extraction. With more and more work being done by energy companies on farmland, issues regarding which party is responsible from an environmental perspective have become a concern for many producers.
"There's no doubt this is one of the hottest topics among farmers today and we see it in our EFP workshops," says Dan Moe, farmer and EFP regional team leader for the Central Region. "With the rise in energy prices meaning strong drilling activity, and the increased vigilance on crop diseases and animal management, farmers have a renewed focus on proper management."
Many environmental factors come into play when energy companies perform work on farmland. "Here are some of the issues we hear about most frequently in workshops," says Moe.
Equipment sanitization. Construction equipment can spread weeds and disease as it is readily transported from area to another around the province. Noxious weeds such as scentless chamomile and diseases such as clubroot in canola, are only a couple of examples says Moe. "Farmers need to be aware that they have the right to make sure all equipment entering their property has been sufficiently sanitized."
Contamination potential. Spills and contamination can and will affect production as well as introduce issues of liability, he says. "Water is a main requirement for agriculture. Without sufficient quality water, production can be severely limited. Although oil and gas activities are regulated, an increase in drilling can increase the risk of problems due to equipment failure or poor workmanship. That is, the more holes drilled through the aquifers, the greater the risk for problems."
Livestock protection issues. Farmers have the right to insist that livestock are protected from equipment, noise and toxins as these can also have a large impact on production.
Future developments. One of the most overlooked factors when negotiating resource extraction on farmland is how oil and gas activity will affect future development opportunities. "A poorly planned pipeline route, for example, can prevent the expansion of a feedlot or the location of a warehouse or hog barn," says Moe.
"Also, producers may be concerned that noise from a compressor station can affect the growth and health of livestock. These installations can also limit development in other ways if you want to use this property for commercial or residential development."
Productivity gains. As farmers adopt new technologies to increase efficiencies and productivity, they must keep in mind that oil and gas installations on their land can potentially hinder these gains.
"As we have seen with the uptake of the Improved Cropping Systems component of the Canada-Alberta Farm Stewardship Program, GPS guidance and autosteer technologies have become the norm on Alberta grain farms," says Moe. "This equipment provides pinpoint accuracy in applying pesticides and fertilizers. It is most efficient when the equipment can travel in straight uninterrupted lines."
As multiple oil and gas installations are added to any field, it interferes with this straight line tracking. "Ultimately, one must farm around these obstacles."
The key to minimizing these risks is to plan ahead, says Moe. Producers should tackle these issues in the negotiation stage in order to ensure a situation that will protect their operation and any future expansions. "The Farmers' Advocate Office (FAO) can play a key role in helping producers develop a negotiation strategy prior to signing over a lease to the energy company."
Regulations enforced by Alberta Environment dictate that the energy company is responsible for the reclamation of leased property. This extends to, for example, spills that go off-lease. When it comes to reclamation, the general rule of thumb is that the piece of land must be returned to a condition comparable to the one it was in prior to the energy company activity.
Once a site has been properly reclaimed, Alberta Environment provides a reclamation certificate. However, if discovered later that the site has not been properly reclaimed, there are still avenues of recourse available through Alberta Environment.
Because many energy companies have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) pertaining to reclamation and record keeping, landowners should show their level of due diligence as well, says Moe.
"The landowner should conduct soil and water testing before the energy company begins its activity, record when these tests are done, and keep records of the results for reference in the event of a dispute. Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) outlined by the EFP program can play a large role in helping producers prove due diligence."
There are several good resources available to help producers understand their rights and obligations pertaining to resource extraction, notes Moe. The FAO, in addition to helping producers develop a negotiation strategy, can also play a role in mediation in the event of a dispute between the landowner and the company. For more information, contact the FAO at 310-FARM.
Another resource is the Environmental Law Centre. Their Web site at https://www.elc.ab.ca/faq/index.cfm is available as a resource to help producers find information about environmental and natural resources law and policy. The Centre's office can be reached toll-free at 1-800-661-4238.
An EFP can also act as a key resource for producers. Information and assistance on a number of on-farm environmental practices is available through a strong network of technical assistants (TAs) throughout the province.
The information on this website is available for reprint with credit to "The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan, www.albertaEFP.com".
Article development courtesy of The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan Company