Updates To Borrow Pit Compliance Under The Water Act

Regulations regarding borrow pits (areas where material such as sand or gravel is excavated for construction or other purposes), have recently undergone some changes from the Alberta Energy Regulator, which have important implications for operators and oil and gas producers.

In Alberta, borrow pits that have the potential to either alter the flow, level or location of water, and/or exposes groundwater (i.e. impoundment of water) and have a total storage capacity greater than 2,500 m3, require Authorization under the Water (Ministerial) Regulation. This applies regardless of land ownership where Approvals are administered by the Alberta Environment and Protected Areas (AEPA) (i.e. private landowners) and Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) (i.e. oil and gas activity). This means that any borrow pit that meets the definition of an "Activity" under the Regulation must obtain an Approval for the Activity before it can be used.

The process for obtaining an Approval for the Activity is outlined in the Guide to Water Act authorizations required for excavations (dugouts, borrow pits and other types of pits/excavations, which was released in November 2020.

The guide provides information on the application and supporting documentation that must be provided to the regulator to obtain Authorization. This includes details on the location and design of the borrow pit, the potential impact on water resources, and the measures that will be taken to mitigate any negative impacts.

In addition to obtaining an Approval for the Activity, operators who plan to use water from a borrow pit for their operations must also obtain a Water Act Licence (temporary diversion licence or term licence) for the diversion of water from the pit. However, before a Water Licence can be granted, the operator must exercise due diligence and confirm that the borrow pit has the proper authorizations for the alteration of water flow, level, or location of water, including retention of surface runoff or groundwater.

Included in this article:

  • What this means for new borrow pits
  • Existing borrow pit management
  • Typical regulatory process
  • Further considerations
  • Summary and key takeaways
  • Contact information

New Borrow Pits, Dugouts, End Pit Lakes, Pits and Water Impoundments

For new construction, operators need to make sure that groundwater is not intercepted during the digging process and use appropriate materials to prevent seepage into the excavation. If the excavation results in the impoundment of surface water, then the operator needs to obtain permission or stop digging altogether. Through the approval process, potential impacts to the aquatic environment and existing water users can be assessed, and appropriate measures can be taken to avoid, mitigate, or manage any disturbances caused by the excavation.

Existing Borrow Pit Management

Despite the fact that Approval for the Activity has always been a requirement under the Water (Ministerial) Regulation, it has not always been actively monitored and enforced. As a result, there are thousands of borrow pits located throughout the province that have been historically used as fresh water sources without proper borrow excavation approval. This poses a problem for operators who may want to use the water from these pits for their operations, as they cannot obtain a Water Licence for a non-compliant borrow pit.

To address this issue, the AER is currently flagging select borrow pit locations without an Approval, so that water diversions cannot be permitted until the pit is rectified. In this context, rectifying the pit means undergoing an Audit process with the regulator.

Typical Process

Integrated Sustainability can support clients to determine compliance status, and where pits are non-compliant, support in discussions with the AER rectify non-compliant borrow pit locations.

Depending on the construction details and site design, a hydrology assessment may be required to determine the impact of the borrow pit on water resources. The assessment will typically include an analysis of the local hydrogeology and groundwater flow, as well as an evaluation of the pit’s design, construction, and operation.

Based on the results of the assessment, measures may be recommended to mitigate any negative impacts on water resources, such as the installation of a liner to prevent groundwater contamination or the construction of a berm to prevent surface water runoff from entering the pit.

Based on our previous experience, the borrow pit Audit process for existing builds and Approval for new borrow pits can take between 2 weeks up to 3 months* where field measurements, calculations, and regulatory review is required. Audit processes for existing builds is followed with the issuance of a non-compliance where the operator must demonstrate plans to ensure this issue is avoided in the future.

*Dependent on the site conditions and requirements

Further Considerations

In addition to the regulatory requirements for borrow pits, operators may also want to consider environmental impacts associated with borrow pit operations. Such impacts can include disturbance and destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitat, soil erosion, and impacts on water quality and quantity. For example, the removal of vegetation and soil cover can result in increased surface water runoff and soil erosion, leading to sedimentation and increased turbidity in nearby water bodies.

It is, therefore, important for operators to implement appropriate environmental management practices to minimize the impacts of borrow pit operations on the surrounding environment. This can include measures such as managing water flows and sedimentation, stabilizing slopes and banks, controlling dust, and restoring vegetation after excavation is complete. By implementing such measures, operators can not only comply with regulatory requirements but also demonstrate a commitment to sustainable operations and responsible resource management.

Summary and Next Steps

In conclusion, regulatory requirements for borrow pits have recently been strengthened to ensure that operators are obtaining the necessary approvals and authorizations for activities that alter the flow, level, or location of water or expose groundwater. Operators must exercise due diligence to confirm that the borrow pit holds the proper authorizations before applying for a Water Licence for diversion purposes. Additionally, operators should be aware of the potential environmental impacts associated with borrow pit operations and implement appropriate management practices to minimize these impacts. By doing so, operators can ensure compliance with regulations and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable and responsible resource management.

If you are looking to use borrow pits as a water source for your upcoming operations and completions, please follow up with Integrated Sustainability’s Regulatory Team.

Stephanie Demers
Sr. Environment & Regulatory Advisor
(403) 875-1296

Tanya Cairns
Vice President, Science and Consulting
(403) 617-5743

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