Important Update

About Sullivan Field Notes

  • On Aug. 1, 2009, Suncor and Petro-Canada combined to create Suncor Energy Inc, a Canadian-based integrated energy company.

    Suncor’s proposed development of the Sullivan natural gas field falls within areas of Kananaskis Country that are appropriately zoned for gas drilling and development. As the location is a highly valued area, our development is a concern for local communities. Engaging our stakeholders and listening to what they have to say is important to us. Welcome to Sullivan Field Notes.

Sullivan Hearing Details


Decision expected

It’s been two months since I posted to the blog, and time has flown by. I actually have no idea where those 60ish days have gone.

But aside from getting caught up in the day-to-day, I’ve actually been holding off on writing a post, thinking it would be great to discuss the imminent (at least, I think it’s imminent) decision from the ERCB on our Sullivan project.

But I’m about to go off on holiday, and I didn’t want to leave the blog in complete silence. If we’ve received the ERCB’s word by the time I come back in early June, I’ll certainly use the blog to discuss it then.

In the meantime, enjoy the start of spring/summer – I think that’s imminent too!


Little words can have big meaning

I don’t have a specific update on Sullivan, but there is something that’s been on my mind that’s relevant from an industry standpoint.

Here’s the thing. Some words, even if they’re very short, can pack a lot of punch. “No” is a powerful word. And “not” turns things into their opposite (just ask any kid from the early ‘90s, or Borat).

Here’s where I’m going with this. You may have heard about the well blowout that occurred near Hythe, Alberta. On Friday, the ERCB issued a news release saying that well-control specialists have regained control and ended the blowout.

I‘m sure this is a great relief to the company involved, and the industry as a whole. Incidents like this are rare, but extremely serious.

I can certainly see why residents near the well site were concerned. But I can’t see why some people (not necessarily the residents) tried to inject more concern into an already sombre situation.

When air monitoring consistently shows that sour gas is not present (or to use words like the ERCB, “there have been no readings of sour gas”), the words “not” and “no” are key.

And that’s why I can’t understand why some blogs and Twitter users would assert/imply that sour gas (hydrogen sulphide) emissions were widespread. That’s a serious claim! And as someone who grew up near sour gas facilities, and someone who works in a company that develops sour gas fields, I can’t appreciate why anyone would make that claim lightly.

The important thing right now is that the blowout has ended, and no one was hurt. Those words are definitely important. But looking back, I also wanted to point out the importance of the other “little” words.


Just one hearing after all

I recently wrote about a request that some interveners made to the Energy Resources Conservation Board, asking for a re-hearing of the Sullivan applications.

About a week ago, the ERCB responded to all parties involved, explaining that they are denying the motions to rehear the application.

In providing this notice, the Board commented that it is not in the practice of anticipating the impact of natural gas prices and associated economics on business decisions of companies; they said these matters are best left to the companies.

With regard to the other issue in the request for rehearing, the ERCB noted that mergers are common to the oil and gas industry, and that merged entities are subject to the same extensive regulation as other companies. The Board added that the merger between Suncor and Petro-Canada involved two large, sophisticated companies with considerable experience in the industry.

More importantly, the Board said it expects Suncor to honour the commitments made by Petro-Canada during our hearing. And we agree that’s important – after all, the commitments weren’t made lightly.

So what’s next? An ERCB decision on the applications. Stay tuned…


Drive Safely

What I’m about to write isn’t directly related to the Sullivan project or regulatory process, but I’m posting it anyway because I think it’s important to our work and our stakeholders.

Our top priority is safety – for our people and those around us, and the focus on safety in our workplaces is evident in a variety of ways.

There’s taking time for a “safety moment” before meetings, wearing the proper personal protective equipment, ensuring that appropriate work procedures and emergency preparedness plans are in place (wow, that was a mouthful of “p”s), and so on.

We also make sure that staff are trained in first aid and other relevant courses.

When most people take first aid, they hope never to use it. Unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had employees at both ends of the province who had to put their training into action. In both instances, our staff came across non-Suncor vehicle accidents. Arriving on the scene, they obviously pitched in and did their best to help.

These employees aren’t looking for recognition or a pat on the back. They simply did what anyone would have. But their experiences are a sobering reminder to us all; the need to keep safety at the top of our personal priority lists is ever-present.

So please, remember to be safe out there. Especially in this season of questionable road quality, please drive safely.


The economy, merger and another round of submissions

My trip to Bali was amazing, but that’s not really what I’m here to talk about. And you probably don’t want to hear about my Christmas either (but just for the record, it was really good – hectic and busy, but good).

In my last post, I said we were due to hand in a submission to the ERCB in late November. And while I was on vacation, that submission was made. As a reminder, the subject at hand was pipeline routing. A couple of months earlier, the ERCB had requested clarification on information we provided before and during the hearing about our chosen pipeline route, which had been selected from a number of possible corridors. We provided the requested information in October, and then interveners had a chance to respond. The November submission was to be our final reply on this matter.

To give some insight regarding our overall stance, here’s an excerpt from our response. “Petro-Canada, in evaluating route options and conducting stakeholder consultations, faced the challenge of balancing varied, and sometimes competing, interests…Petro-Canada understands that from any particular individual perspective, the resulting decision may not appear to be in the public interest. However, what best addresses the public interest cannot be all things to all people. Petro-Canada undertook the task of route selection with the primary focus on addressing the wider public interest.”

So that’s the latest on that issue. But wait. There’s more.

(For some reason, whenever I say that phrase, I picture a grandfather telling his grandkids an elaborate story. I’m not sure why, as I can’t remember my own grandpa ever using the phrase. But I’m off track again. Let’s move on.)

In early December, we received notice from the ERCB that two interveners had requested a re-opening of the Sullivan hearing. Their basis for these requests was, essentially (and to paraphrase), that a) changes in the natural gas industry and economy have negatively affected the viability of the Sullivan project and b) that the Suncor / Petro-Canada merger has also affected the project.

The ERCB asked us to submit a response to these assertions, and once we did (in mid-December), the interveners were to provide the Board with a final reply just before Christmas. 

I can’t speak to what the interveners said in that last submission, but our basic response to the above to points was as follows.

Regarding the contention that our industry has been negatively affected by the economic downturn and lower commodity prices, we don’t disagree. But we don’t really see the relevance of this situation to the regulatory approval process. Economic factors are always considered when a company decides when/whether to proceed with a project like Sullivan, but such factors are considered not in the context of the present year, but within the context of the project’s entire lifespan.

And if the ERCB is concerned that we may not proceed, they are able to write a development deadline into the conditions of approval (if approval is granted). These sorts of regulatory deadlines are quite common.

Regarding the merger, we don’t see that it has an impact on Sullivan. The new Suncor has the same level of technical expertise as the former Petro-Canada, and the company continues to place high importance on environmental stewardship and safety.

Some people have argued that because Suncor is an oil sands-centric company, it has no interest in pursuing natural gas projects like Sullivan. That is not the case. While Suncor’s primary focus is the oil sands industry, the company continues to have a business unit actively dedicated to natural gas exploration and production (as well as other non-oil sands businesses). 

To sum up – as you’ve probably figured out by now – we made an argument in December that the merger and economy do not justify a reopening of the hearing. We’re now waiting for the next step.

While this post is a bit lengthy, I hope it’s gone some way to explaining events of the last month or so. And now we’ll just have to see what the next month or so brings! 


Upcoming submission to ERCB

Keeping in mind what I said about not waiting to delay so long between posts, I thought it would only be fitting to sign in before I head out of the office for a couple of weeks.

While it’s only getting chillier in Alberta, I’ll be enjoying the sun from Bali and a couple of other Indonesian islands. (Sorry, I just can’t get enough of telling people that – what can I say? I’m excited.)

Anyway, during the time I’m away, Suncor is scheduled to provide its final reply regarding the ERCB’s request for more information about pipeline routing options that Petro-Canada proposed for the Sullivan field.

In my last post, I mentioned the final submission was due by November 17. But the schedule for this latest requirement in the regulatory proceedings was since revised, and Suncor’s due date was moved to November 23 (the other due dates, including the one for interveners, were also moved accordingly).

In other words, this was just a quick post to touch base and provide a (small) update. Until next time!


A new blogger and some new dates

When writing emails to long-distance friends, I often end up starting off with, “Sorry it’s taken me so long to write…” And as I post to this blog for the first time, I can’t help but feel like I should start the same way.

It’s a poor excuse (here and in my emails), but a lot has been going on!

The merger between Petro-Canada and Suncor became officialat the beginning of August. A month or so later, I learned I’d be taking over the role of senior communications advisor for the new company’s Natural Gas business (Kyle Happy, who held that title at Petro-Canada and maintained this blog until now, is still around – you can read more about both of us here).

It’s taken me some time to get up to speed, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I can claim to be there yet. But I wanted to introduce myself anyway. I also wanted to draw your attention to what is, by now, a bit of old news.


In late September, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) requested more information from Suncor about the pipeline routing options that Petro-Canada proposed for the Sullivan field.


There have been a few posts on this blog about the regulatory schedule for the Sullivan decision, and that includes scheduling updates and revisions. This latest announcement from the Board means another of those updates. Suncor and the interveners have a new schedule to follow, based on the ERCB’s recent request. The schedule now culminates with a final reply from Suncor, due by November 17, 2009.


For now, that’s about all I have to report. Well, that and one other thing: it shouldn’t take me so long to write next time!


- Kelli Stevens


The End of the Beginning

On Friday, Petro-Canada submitted it's final rebuttal to the ERCB in regards to the Sullivan project. It's hard to believe that we -- stakeholders and Petro-Canada employees alike -- have spent the better part of nine months engaged in a formal regulatory process that was capped with a retort to intervener arguments. If this were pro hockey, someone would be skating around with the Cup!

But this isn't hockey and the process isn't a game. Petro-Canada presented a project that it felt (and continues to feel) was in the best interest of Albertans to develop. A project that we believe can be constructed and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. This hasn't changed.

The Company faced opposition from a group of local land-owners and interest groups who thought otherwise and questioned the merits of any development in the region. This also remains true.

What we don't know is how the Board will respond. It's now in their hands to determine what's fair. There will be no score... after nine months we must now be patient and await the Board's decision.

The end of the beginning shouldn't be confused with the beginning of the end.


What's going on?

Those of you who've been following this blog -- or the Sullivan hearing for that matter -- have no doubt been anticipating the arrival of Friday, June 26. Previously known as the date that Petro-Canada was to submit its final reply with the Board; this was the submission that would bring us one step closer towards a resolution.

But certainties, as we've learned, are often a rarity.

"Out of an abundance of fairness and process," an extension of the filing deadlines for Argument has been granted by the Board. Schedules set out in the Panel's letters of April 30 and May 11, 2009 have been amended to the following:

  • Interested Parties' Written Argument to be filed with the Board and provided to Petro-Canada and all other Interested Parties by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, June 26.

  • Petro-Canada's Final Reply to be filed with the Board and provided to all other Interested Parties by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, July 17.

Stay tuned!

On a related note, Kelly Cryderman recently penned an article in the Calgary Herald that focussed on a request to appeal the Board's decision that a relationship earlier in the year did not compromise the Sullivan hearing process.

It’s important to note that the application for leave to appeal put forward by the Big Loop Group relates to the ERCB’s decision on the independent investigation into a relationship between an ERCB and Petro-Canada employee and is not an appeal of the Sullivan project itself. 

That said, we’re confident in the Board's decision on the matter of the investigation and believe that it took the appropriate steps to ensure that the integrity of the hearing wasn’t compromised.

There's more to come, but until then, enjoy the summer!


Final Argument Submitted

As I alluded to in my last post, the Sullivan team submitted its final argument to the Board and intervening parties on Friday (May 22). I've posted it here (broken down into three smaller files) for those who have been following the hearing and might find it of interest: