Local politicians are fuming after learning an oil project was granted approval in Lethbridge without city council’s awareness.
Tamarack Valley Energy has set up shop for a production well near a park where three oil wells were already in place.
Mayor Chris Spearman said he is disappointed and is calling the lack of communication a learning experience for city staff.
“Until 12:15 (Monday), I didn’t know that the city was notified. The city manager didn’t know that the city was notified, and certainly, there was a communications issue that didn’t take place that should’ve taken place,” he said.
The group No Drilling Lethbridge found that Tamarack Valley has been operating a production well in West Lethbridge near Cottonwood Park.
The city planning department received a notification of the company’s plans last October but didn’t pass on the message to council or the city manager.
“There was little that we could do so we didn’t pass that information on to city council,” said the City of Lethbridge’s director of planning Jeff Greene.
“That’s something that we will change now. We will be putting in a protocol to ensure city council is informed of these applications in the future.”
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Local officials have no power or jurisdiction over the project, but in this case, not knowing prevented council from getting involved.
“What we could do if we were informed is file a letter of opposition, and we missed the opportunity to do that,” Spearman said.
The Ministry of Environment and Parks said that if the city had filed a letter during the initial two-week period, there would have likely been public consultation.
This decision comes about five years after more than 11,000 residents signed a petition against a GoldenKey Oil project set in an area of future development on the city’s west side.
READ MORE: Petitions say no to drilling in Lethbridge
But Tamarack said this project is different, noting there are already three wells in place at the location and that its own is not an exploration well.
“Certainly, we’re open to taking any comments or calls from concerned residents. We don’t have any plans to drill more wells here, (but) you can never say never because you don’t know how this well is going to turn out,” said president and CEO Brian Schmidt.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the process has changed to include municipalities when oil and gas projects take place inside city limits.
But those changes were effective at the start of this year, and Tamarack was granted approval by the Alberta Energy Regulator in November.
Spearman says this doesn’t align with Lethbridge’s plan for no oil or gas development within its city limits.
After an on-camera meeting, city council passed a resolution addressing the drilling site.
The city is going to make its opposition and concerns known to Tamarack Valley Energy as well as Alberta’s energy minister.
Council said it isn’t against oil and gas exploration, but it is concerned about the negative impacts of such projects on urban municipalities and residents.
—With files from Tom Roulston
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