Head of Alberta Energy Regulator to step down in January


CALGARY — The president and CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) will resign from his position, the organization said Friday.

Jim Ellis will leave the job on Jan. 31, 2019, a decision that has been “in the planning stages for the past several months,” the AER said in a press release. In a statement, AER chair Sheila O’Brien said Ellis’ “leadership and strategic vision” have been crucial for the regulator, which oversees the development of oil, oilsands, natural gas and coal projects in the province.

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“The AER Board wishes Jim all the very best in the future and offers our gratitude for his service and the legacy he leaves at the AER,” she said.

Ellis has led the regulator since it was created in 2013, the result of merging two oil and gas development-related government agencies together. The AER said it would begin the search for his replacement “immediately.”

READ MORE: Alberta regulator apologizes for spooking public with $260-billion cleanup cost estimate

On Thursday, the AER apologized for a “staggering” presentation, made last February by one of its highest-ranking officials, that warned the province’s oilpatch that it could be sitting on an estimated $260 billion in financial liabilities. That’s more than $200 billion greater than the previous calculation made public by the regulator at $58.65 billion.

The details of the presentation, given by the regulator’s vice-president of closure and liability Robert Wadsworth, were made public Thursday in a report by the National Observer, Global News, the Toronto Star and StarMetro Calgary.

READ MORE: Cleaning up Alberta’s oil patch could cost $260 billion, a top official warns

The joint investigation is “unrelated” to Ellis’ resignation, said AER spokesperson Bob Curran in a statement on Friday.

In response, the AER said the number in Wadsworth’s presentation was based on a “worst-case scenario” of a complete industry shut down, and using it was an “error in judgment and one we deeply regret.” It also said the higher estimate had “not been validated by AER.”

The statement appeared to be at odds with Wadsworth’s presentation notes, which said the $260-billion figure was likely to be a low estimate.

The $58-billion calculation, according to Wadsworth’s presentation notes, is based on self-reported numbers from industry. The $260-billion estimate, meanwhile, was “calculated internally” by AER’s own experts.

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Wadsworth has declined to give an interview about his remarks.

The liability estimate factors in the costs of shutting down and cleaning up oil-and-gas sites at the end of their usefulness. That includes inactive wells, pipelines and tailings ponds in the oilsands.

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