On Wednesday December 2, 2015, the Town of Pincher Creek's Committee of the Whole met with a delegation from Shell, consisting of Operations Manager of the Shell Waterton Complex Peter Argument, and Shell Canada External Relations for Foothills Patty Richards. Their purpose was to share information regarding the proposed Castle Mountain Provincial Park, discuss their relationships with the new NDP Provincial Government, and discuss the creation of a regional Emergency Management organization.
Mayor Don Anderberg opened by publicly thanking Shell for their contributions to Pincher Creek's Emergency Room renovations, as well contributions given this year through the Tree of Hope fundraiser for new natal monitors and lighting. "The facility is first class now," said Mayor Anderberg.
Argument explained that his purpose at the meeting was to raise a couple of points regarding concerns around the future of Shell's plans, and to offer clarity on those issues. "There's been a couple of big changes in the environment," said Argument. "One is the oil pricing environment, which we hear about all the time. That impacts us." Despite this, he said that improvements in efficiency of operations over the last couple years have made Shell keep stability in the market. "There's always pressure on projects, but we're not looking at making drastic cuts anytime soon." "
For the Waterton operation we've actually been very stable for the last two years," said Argument, noting that there have been no layoffs there in the last two years.
The second change in the environment for Shell is related to the recent announcement of a proposed Castle Provincial Park. "In some of our engagement sessions we've actually had other parties come up and ask us 'What is our position?'," explained Argument. "Some of the ranchers have concerns over where the boundaries were drawn, and so we've had some conversations there."
Argument then talked about Shell's new drilling program. Shell didn't drill any new wells in 2015, but they are progressing with a proposal to drill in July 2016. "All the project planning and the drill planning for that is going ahead. We've submitted a request in the budget, so that's all gone ahead so far," Argumen stated. "There's always a chance that due to budget priorities it could be at risk, but right now its going ahead, which is good for us." Argument explained that Shell has a lease agreement with the property owner at the proposed drill sight, and that public consultation is ongoing with the Waterton Advisory Group, as well as several subcommittees. Argument talked about Shell's plans for another potential well in 2017, which could be located at one of six potential drill sites. "A lot of the consultation we've had with people in the community has been generally supportive." They plan to drill about one well per year, depending on how well each well does.
"We are in the process of applying for our new appeal license." This would be their license to continue operating their facility, which is due next year.
Argument spoke on members of Shell sent out to meet with Alberta's Land Use Secretariat, the
Alberta Recreation & Parks Association, and the Department of Energy, which took place in Edmonton in November. Argument said there were no surprises in that meeting, and that they have already made many of the commitments expected by the provincial government locally. "There's nothing concerning yet," said Argument. Shell will be capable of using existing well sites, and their next site is off of an existing pad. "We were very pleased by their willingness to work with us" said Richards, who attended the meeting in Edmonton. Richards explained that Shell had been a bit concerned going into those meetings over potential restrictions, but that those concerns were assuaged over the course of the meeting. "We were also pleased because we do hear from the grazing shareholders, as well as NGOs and the like, and there seems to be more of a willingness to work together than we had thought. We were very heartened by that." Richards said that she hopes Shell will be able to use their relationship with Alberta Recreation & Parks Association to increase public awareness of the problems they are tackling.
Councillor Doug Thornton asked whether there would be the addition of fracking at any of these sites as the pressure declined in their wells. "No," replied Argument, "But I've got to be careful here. I think all wells end up having some degree of fracking. But its not the same kind of fracking that you tend to see on the news." Argument then explained the difference between different kinds of fracking, touching on how their sites make use of well stimulation, which usually doesn't involve water. "Its a different technology," explained Argument. "When we do fracturing we're typically thousands of meters depths, we're not shallow, and we don't have the high intensity or the high density you'd see in Northwestern Alberta."
Argument stated that they practice an exercise in which they "drill the well on paper" before they do any well stimulation. "We do look at other opportunities, and other technologies," said Argument, mentioning that plunger lifts are often used as a tool when well pressures start to drop. "There's a small capital investment, but it lets us extend the life of the well."
Mayor Anderberg then spoke on Pincher Creek Town Council's own meeting with the Environment Minister in Calgary. "We've had our opportunity to speak with the government also, so we're going to share with you that little bit of information that we have," said Mayor Anderberg. Anderberg also spoke on the announcement regarding the proposed Castle Provincial park, saying "They really didn't consult with us, at all, as municipalities. And certainly the Crowsnest Pass, the MD of Pincher Creek and ourselves are, I would say, directly impacted." Present at their meeting with the Minister of Environment were the MD of Ranchlands, the MD of the Crowsnest Pass, the Village of Waterton, and the Town of Pincher Creek. Anderberg said "We had a really good frank conversation with the Minister, and since then we seem to be receiving much more information."
"We had a lot of discussion around turning the land into a park, and what's really going to happen here." Anderberg said he was concerned about the future of operations like Shell, loggers in the area, and grazing in the forestry. "As the conversation went on we realized that certainly the decision has been made, but there are some real good reasons that is has, some of which came from us. We've made requests throughout the years to either create more campgrounds or do more enforcement. So it isn't a one sided conversation in a lot of ways." Lack of consultation remains a sore point for Anderberg, but he said "Now I think they understand".
According to Anderberg, one of the reasons for creating a provincial park is to get more control over the territory. Shell has had issues in the past with access management on their Shell road. They can manage the area, but they can't enforce any of the rules. As a result the rule changes made under provincial parks regulations may help Shell in the future. Provincial parks regulations differ from those of wildland parks.
"As our conversation expanded a lot of our concerns went away," said Mayor Anderberg about Cyprus Hills grazing issues. "They like the cattle in there, because it helps prevent the fire hazard. Ministries enhance what is already there."
"We're warming up to it."
Following this, the committee and delegation discussed the possibility of bringing Shell into a start up discussion concerning a Regional Emergency Management Organization being developed by a partnership of the Town of Pincher Creek, the MD of Pincher Creek, and the Village of Cowley. "We'd be interested in having that conversation," said Argument.