New geothermal rules for Ontario put the spotlight on changes to come
By Laura Aiken
April 20 will go down in history as the day that changed the geothermal industry in Ontario forever.
April 20 will go down in history as the day that changed the geothermal industry in Ontario forever. It took only one contractor in Oakville, who struck a boatload of pressurized natural gas while drilling a borehole for a vertical geothermal heating system, to usher in that change. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the potential for stratospheric danger was there. Rob Burton, Oakville’s mayor, called for an immediate moratorium on geothermal drilling in the province until the rules were rewritten to better protect public safety. He pretty much got his wish with a government reaction so knee-jerked the MOE may have kicked itself in the head. It swiftly slapped a new regulation in place that, basically, called for a bunch more consultation and prior planning before a geothermal drilling project could get underway. Nothing lights a fire under the Canadian government like the thought of blood on its hands, and rightfully so.
It’s too bad for the geothermal industry that the hastily implemented Regulation O.98/12 happened as opposed to a more thoughtfully drawn up amendment to Regulation 903. The Canadian GeoExchange Coalition (CGC) outlined in a press release the many layoffs that have happened as a result. The industry was ground to a halt by the need for a 45-day minimum posting for environmental compliance approval. The CGC proposed that drillers be able to continue with the well-established safety guidelines they have until a new regulation can be hammered out fairly and with more public consultation but the wish wasn’t granted. If balls had rolled more quickly on amending Reg 903 in the first place, as the ground water industry has long been calling for, the geo industry would have had more time to transition smoothly into new requirements.
This situation hasn’t hurt the geo folks alone, for people can be one and the same. It hurts water well drillers who are earning money and keeping their staff busy with geothermal installations too.
The issue of licensing is still the nut of what the ground water industry has been calling for. There is a notion of fairness in requiring licences for all those who drill into the ground that will be difficult to dispel or, conversely, meet, as there is another view that a licence is an onerous burden when the holes being drilled aren’t for the purposes of a product that leads directly back to the human mouth.
The regulation the government put forward is too cumbersome in places, too onerous, and places too much burden on the geothermal industry by requiring expensive consultations on already pricey projects for home owners. But it is a step towards what the water well industry is seeking and it’s important that these industries, different but similar, reach common goals and mutual understanding. That being said, the geo industry has paid a very high price with Reg O.98/12. I’d like to see them happy with a regulation that they are comfortable with. The MOE has promised to consult with industry stakeholders. It will be interesting to see what becomes of it all.
Change is the simultaneous birth and death of the way something is done. When it’s been slapped down in a political fever, chances are always high that it will cause a furor. In the end, strengthening regulation for the geothermal industry will help put more safeguards against dangerous accidents in place, and keep the public’s faith and goodwill high.