The new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAA) has moved away from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's (CEAA) decision-making process - based on the significance of a project’s effects, and which took into consideration facts and science - and has transitioned towards decisions based on the Canadian public’s interests - based on emotions, opinions and politics. In this, they have implemented a five-phase approach to project approval. Each phase includes what the IAA calls open, transparent, timely and inclusive participation opportunities for anyone who wants to engage in the consultation process. Input from the public will be included in the Impact Assessment Report and will be used by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (or Cabinet) when making the final approval decision on a project.
What does this mean for proponents? In order to meet tight regulatory timelines with increased public participation, they will need to have a very clear understanding of who may identify themselves as being impacted by a project, what concerns might be raised, and how the IAA or other regulators will want them to deal with those concerns. To do this, proponents will need to leverage data and technology to understand the past, monitor the present and predict the future.
Looking at the first IAA phase, Early Engagement, the submission of a project description will start a 180-day (maximum) window where the IAA announces the project, opens a public comment period, analyzes public input and presents key concerns to the proponent. Before the six-month window expires, the IAA must present (1) an Impact Assessment Cooperation Plan, (2) an Indigenous Engagement and Partnership Plan, (3) a Public Participation Plan, (4) Tailored Impact Statement Guidelines and (5) a Permitting Plan.
Before a proponent files their project description, they would be very well served to analyze the consultation data previously submitted to regulators for similar (of industry, scope or region) projects. Assessing this information with business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI) will allow proponents to understand what Indigenous communities and the Canadian public will be concerned about before the Early Engagement phase even begins. Of course, it would be the wrong strategy to enter a community or public forum telling people what their concerns are before you give them a chance to speak; however, understanding their concerns or questions before they tell you will allow you to respond quicker, and with greater credibility.
Utilizing technology, proponents will have more accurate and complete community profiles, understand potential concerns, predict what public input may possibly be deemed as important by the IAA, and understand what has been done in the past to meet regulatory requirements or Indigenous and public requests. The result will be more successful engagement strategies that present relevant facts Indigenous communities and the public are actually interested in. Doing this will also ensure proponents dictate their own project's narrative before someone else does.
Accurately tracking a complete consultation record has been a regulatory requirement for nearly a decade. Instead of treating this as a critical risk mitigation method, many proponents treated it as a checkbox. Track consultation in a database? Check. Submit consultation tables to the regulator? Check. Going forward, ongoing consultation data will need to be audited regularly by consultation teams to ensure it is complete and accurate, and will need to be analyzed in detail to identify trends in Indigenous and public concerns before they can risk a project. Using BI and AI to monitor consultation throughout the remaining four IAA phases will reduce regulatory and social risk by highlighting trends that would normally go unnoticed.
Changes will likely be seen with regional regulators who have oversight from governments with similar political ambitions. Looking to the west coast, the BC EAO has recently revitalized it's Environmental Assessment (EA) process. A predominant change is for, "Enhancing public confidence by ensuring impacted First Nations, local communities and governments and the broader public can meaningfully participate in all stages of environmental assessment through a process that is robust, transparent, timely and predictable." That sounds eerily similar to the IAA.
Proponents within the energy industry have been presented with another opportunity to show how adaptive and resilient they can be. Regardless of how the public is told to feel, the energy industry can gain trust by providing facts that communities and Canadians are interested in and empowering them to make their own informed decisions about whether or not a project is in their interest.
AI Dashboard Powered by RegSync
The dashboard below shows the power of AI and machine learning by analyzing 900 comments on Aurora LNG Digby Island. For this example, we selected a 2017 BC EAO public comment period. The word cloud shows the frequency of keywords from the key phrases and the gauge in the top right shows the combined sentiment of all the comments.
The BC EAO public comment period just closed for Woodfibre LNG's floating worker accommodation amendment application. We'll analyze these over the holidays. Watch for a key phrase, sentiment and topic assessment on these comments early in the new year.
Every Consultation Record. One Location.
There are six regulators who oversee oil and gas development in British Columbia and Alberta. Each has its own, very unique and complex application directory. This makes it difficult and time-consuming to find consultation records, let alone perform analysis and identify trends. DIMEC synchronizes information from every regulator and converts every document submitted by every proponent, stakeholder and Indigenous community into a single, easy to use database called RegSync. RegSync includes every concern and response, feedback on applications, public comments, working group comments and engagement logs. Click here to learn more.