By: Fenner Stewart
Legislation Commented On: Surface Rights Act, RSA 2000, c S-24
Section 27 of Alberta’s Surface Rights Act obliges operators to notify landowners of the opportunity to renegotiate leases, but provides no enforcement measures for operator non-compliance. This post explores the potential fallout.
Alberta’s Surface Rights Act helps to encourage the negotiation of surface leases between landowners and operators. Whether granting a producer the right of entry to drill for oil and gas or granting an energy company the right to place a pipeline or power transmission line across one’s property, many landowners would not allow such operators access to their land if the force of law did not compel the right of entry. In mining and drilling cases, the common law recognizes an implied right of entry in conjunction with the granting of mineral rights. In pipeline and transmission line cases, the Crown can exercise its power of expropriation to take private property for public use. In these situations, the legal authority for such rights of entry is not dependent on any power granted by the Surface Rights Act.
The primary purpose of the Surface Rights Act is to avoid litigation when an obstinate landowner rejects all reasonable offers for compensation in exchange for access to their property. When negotiations breakdown, the Surface Rights Board intervenes and establishes the terms, including compensation, of the surface lease. By offering an alternative to a privately negotiated lease, the Act promises to break deadlocks between lessor-landowners and lessee-operators resulting in expedited energy projects. Further, it is hoped that by providing an alternative to the more adversarial judicial system, more amicable relations between landowners and operators will develop even in less than ideal circumstances.