Updated December 2022
This EnerFAQs explains the purposes of Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) public hearings and provides information to assist you in participating effectively.
- What is an AER hearing?
- Do many applications go to hearing?
- How do I find out about hearings?
- If issues cannot be solved, may I participate in the hearing process?
- How do I become a participant in a hearing?
- What should I include in my written request to participate in a hearing?
- What’s the next step?
- What is the Rules of Practice?
- Should I form a group to participate?
- Do I need to hire a lawyer?
- Do I have to pay for all of this?
- How long does an AER public hearing last?
- May I attend an AER hearing just to listen?
- What is a hearing panel?
- What happens at an AER hearing?
- When will the application be decided?
- Can I really affect the final decision?
- Can an AER decision be appealed?
- Who enforces whatever the company agrees to during a public hearing?
- Additional Information
What is an AER hearing?
An AER hearing is a public forum where those who may be directly and adversely affected by an application for an energy project may participate. An energy project includes the infrastructure to responsibly develop oil, gas, oil sands, coal, and deep geothermal resources, such as wells, facilities, and pipelines. An AER hearing is a formal and quasi-judicial proceeding. It provides a level playing field for all participants who can know and question the positions of others. This forum allows the hearing commissioners to make a fully informed decision. A hearing may also be held where a request for a regulatory appeal has been granted. Information on regulatory appeals is available on the AER website at www.aer.ca.
Do many applications go to hearing?
The AER may decide to conduct a hearing when a statement of concern is filed for a proposed project. Applications for energy resource development can create community concern or a need for more information; however, these matters are often settled through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process. A hearing is not required when no statements of concern are filed with the AER or matters have been settled through ADR. Also, if the AER determines that no one is directly or adversely affected by the proposed project, a hearing might not be held. For more information, see the ADR page on the AER website at www.aer.ca.
How do I find out about hearings?
The AER issues a notice of hearing to inform people and organizations about its decision to hold a hearing. Notices are available on the AER website at www.aer.ca and may also be published in newspapers.
Companies involved in large projects usually hold an open house to explain their proposed project, answer questions, and address concerns.
The initial notice of hearing provides interested persons with the following information:
- the application number and nature of the application
- a description of the project
- how to get information about the hearing
- how to apply to participate in the hearing
- the relevant rules under the Alberta Energy Regulator Rules of Practice (Rules of Practice), including the rule that documents filed must be placed on the public record subject to an application for confidentiality
- how to get information on cost recovery if you participate in a hearing
If issues cannot be solved, may I participate in the hearing process?
Yes. By submitting a request to participate, you may be granted participation in a hearing if the AER has decided to proceed to a hearing and has agreed that an energy project may directly and adversely affect you. For more information on the hearing process, see www.aer.ca.
How do I become a participant in a hearing?
If you wish to become a participant, you must write a request to participate and submit it to the applicant and the AER by the deadline stated in the notice of hearing.
All written submissions from the applicant and participants become public documents. In this way, everyone can review everyone else’s submissions before the hearing and is better able to prepare responses.
What should I include in my written request to participate in a hearing?
Submissions must address the application in question and should not relate to general concerns about energy development. Start by explaining where you live, work, or own land in relation to the site of the proposed project. Detail your views about the project and specify why and how you will be directly and adversely affected should the project proceed. The AER must decide on applications based on individual interests and broader factors, including the benefits of the energy project for all Albertans. If you simply oppose a project without providing solid reasons for doing so, the AER may decide that you are ineligible to participate in the hearing.
If you have concerns, suggest reasonable alternatives that could alleviate effects. Explain what conditions you would like to see imposed on the operator if the application were approved. The AER cannot use unsubstantiated information. Support your beliefs with facts specifically related to the project and include written materials you intend to use.
For a complete description of what to include in the request to participate, see the Rules of Practice available at www.aer.ca and from the AER’s Data & Information Services.
What’s the next step?
Once you have provided your written summary of concerns and objections about the proposed project to the applicant and the AER, you may need to prepare for the hearing.
What is the Rules of Practice?
The Rules of Practice contain directions for proceedings before the AER. The Rules of Practice explain how and what must be done during a proceeding. The AER expects all applicants and participants in AER matters to be familiar with the Rules of Practice.
Should I form a group to participate?
Research and preparation of a submission can take time and effort. You may decide to form or join a group with other people in your area if they share your concerns or objections. A group submission can be helpful as it indicates broader support for the views expressed. Whether you prepare your submission alone or as a group, it is best to do thorough work and provide solid evidence to support your points of view.
Do I need to hire a lawyer?
Although there is no requirement that a lawyer represents you during the hearing, having a lawyer represent your interests may be a good idea. AER hearings are like a civil case before a judge. Lawyers are trained to present cases, cross-examine witnesses, and argue on what the AER’s decision should be. The lawyer can also assist in arranging for experts to support your case.
Do I have to pay for all of this?
To qualify for the recovery of costs, a participant must file a costs claim with the AER. Costs may arise from researching and preparing your submission, hiring a lawyer, and attending the hearing. The AER considers requests for participants’ costs and may order the applicant to pay them. Before spending any money, consult Directive 031: REDA Energy Cost Claims.
How long does an AER public hearing last?
Every case is unique; hearings may last anywhere from one day to several weeks, depending on the nature of the application and the complexity of the issues.
May I attend an AER hearing just to listen?
Yes. AER hearings are open to the public to attend in person or have live audio broadcasts available.
What is a hearing panel?
A hearing panel may be one hearing commissioner or a group of three hearing commissioners selected by the chief hearing commissioner. The hearing commissioners are the decision makers. A decision of the panel is the decision of the AER.
What happens at an AER hearing?
An AER hearing follows a formal process to ensure that everyone has a say:
- Opening remarks: The panel chair explains the purpose of the hearing and introduces the members of the panel and all AER staff in the room. Then participants in the hearing register an appearance and introduce themselves.
- Preliminary matters: Procedural and legal matters are presented, such as adjournment requests or scheduling of a witness at a particular time.
- Applicant (present case): The applicant presents their case and may question their witnesses. Other participants, AER staff, and the panel may cross-examine those witnesses. Once cross-examinations are complete, the applicant may question the witnesses again to clarify any issues.
- Participants (present case): Participants present their cases in the same order they registered. After the participant gives direct evidence, the lawyer for the applicant may cross-examine, followed by the other participants who wish to cross-examine. AER staff and members of the panel may then cross-examine the participant. Following cross-examination, the participant may clarify any issues.
- Rebuttal evidence by applicant: Once the preceding process is complete with all the participants and their witnesses, the applicant may submit additional evidence to address new points raised in the presentation of the evidence.
- Final argument or summation: Each participant may explain what they believe are the important aspects of the issues involved and what decisions they feel the panel should make. The applicant may respond to participants’ arguments.
- Closing of hearing: The panel chair announces that the hearing is complete and that the panel’s decision, with supporting reasons, will be given at a specific date.
- Decision Report: The report provides hearing panel’s final reasoning and decision on the application. It is distributed to all registered participants and is available to the public through the AER’s Data & Information Services and on the AER website at www.aer.ca.
When will the application be decided?
The hearing panel will release its decision within 90 days of the close of a hearing. In exceptional cases, the timeframe for issuing the decision report may be extended. The decision report outlines the position of all hearing participants and gives the panel’s decision and reasons for the decision. The decision report is distributed to all participants and is available through the AER’s Data & Information Services and on the AER website (www.aer.ca).
Can I really affect the final decision?
Yes. In making its decisions, the hearing commissioners consider all valid concerns put forward by participants. If the project is approved, special conditions that reflect the specific concerns of participants may be attached to the decision.
Can an AER decision be appealed?
Yes. An appeal of the AER’s decision may be made to the Alberta Court of Appeal on questions of jurisdiction or law, meaning that the AER did not have the authority to make the decision or made a mistake about the law. You must obtain permission to appeal the decision from the Court of Appeal by making an application for leave to appeal within one month after the hearing panel’s decision is issued. In certain circumstances, the court may grant an extension.
Who enforces whatever the company agrees to during a public hearing?
The AER enforces the conditions in the decision report through inspections and, where appropriate, government department follow-up. Responsible applicants do what they agree to and are required to do, and intensive follow-up is not required. However, if you think this is not the case, contact the nearest AER field centre and explain the problem. If your concern relates to coal mines, contact the AER head office in Calgary.
For additional information on the AER and its processes or if you wish to speak with your local field centre or have questions about energy resource development in the province of Alberta, contact the AER Customer Contact Centre: Monday to Friday (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 1-855-297-8311 (toll free).
This document is part of the EnerFAQs series, which explains the AER’s regulations and processes relating to specific energy issues. Please visit www.aer.ca to read more of the EnerFAQs series.
Each year the AER collects, compiles, and publishes a large amount of technical data and information about Alberta’s energy development and resources for use by industry and the public. This includes raw data, statistics, hearing materials, and information on regulations, policies, and decisions.
Publications may be obtained from Data & Information Services. Publications may also be downloaded free of charge from the AER website at www.aer.ca.
Publications may be downloaded free of charge from the AER website at www.aer.ca or made available through the Products and Services Catalogue by contacting Data & Information Services (email: @email).
AER Head Office
Suite 1000, 250 – 5 Street SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4
1-855-297-8311 (toll free)
Energy and Environmental 24-hour Response Line (emergencies and complaints): 1-800-222-6514 (toll free)