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N.W.T. MLAs approve updates to decades-old oil and gas laws

The laws update the rules around how a company can get permits to explore for and produce oil in the Northwest Territories while regulating what happens once a company starts exploring for or producing oil and gas. 

New laws replace holdovers from before 2014 devolution agreement with Ottawa

The government of the Northwest Territories is hoping updated oil and gas laws will attract investment in the territory. Pictured here is an aerial view of one of Seven Generations Energy's drilling operations in the Montney, a huge deposit in Alberta. (Seven Generations Energy)

MLAs in the Northwest Territories have passed two pieces of oil and gas legislation, replacing decades-old legislation. 

The Petroleum Resources Act sets the rules around how a company can get permits to explore for and produce oil in the Northwest Territories. The Oil and Gas Operations Act regulates what happens once a company starts exploring for or producing oil and gas. 

These bills replace old legislation that mirrored federal laws when the territory inherited authority for its lands, minerals and on-shore petroleum resources from Ottawa in devolution in 2014. 

They expand the powers of the Office of the Regulator of Oil and Gas Operations and the minister. They'll be able to compel information from resource companies and decide when to withhold that information from the public. 

In addition, companies will now have just 15 years to sit on a "significant discovery" before they have to begin exploration or request an extension. Once they start, they'll be limited to 25 years before they have to begin producing.

The bills passed their third and final reading in a unanimous, 17-0 vote Wednesday in the Legislative Assembly. 

But Industry Minister Wally Schumann did face criticism from Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly. During the bill's final review, O'Reilly accused the government of depriving regular MLAs of their ability to amend the bill. 

Since these laws affect areas where the National Energy Board has authority, the federal government needs to approve them before they can become law. 

Schumann and officials with the territory's Industry, Tourism and Investment Department received that approval before regular MLAs signed off on the bills, O'Reilly said, which hampered their ability to make changes, as is their right in consensus government. 

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly criticized Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann, and how he crafted bills related to resource management. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)
 

"This is impinging upon my ability to do my job as an MLA," O'Reilly said. "This is thwarting my ability to bring forward a motion that is in the public interest, in my view."   

In response, Schumann said he'd spoken with the law clerk before bringing the bill to the National Energy Board for review. 

"Let's make something very clear here, we didn't just go off and do this on our own," Schumann said. "We talked to the law clerk about this issue before we did this and got consent that we'd be able to share this information." 

O'Reilly sought to have Schumann disciplined on a point of privilege during Wednesday's session in the Legislative Assembly, but that effort failed.

Department officials told MLAs they will look to implement as much of the new acts as possible right away, but some regulatory aspects may take more time before they come into effect. 

These are two of 16 bills MLAs expect to pass this month during the final two weeks of session before the campaign begins for the Oct. 1 election.

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