APAS talks sub surface rights

By Michael Joel-Hansen
November 29, 2018 - 9:19am

The rights of landowners have been front and center recently in Saskatchewan.

This issue was tackled at the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) annual general meeting in Regina Wednesday.

APAS hosted a panel which featured representatives from surface rights organizations who spoke about the rights which landowners have when it comes to dealing with energy companies on their land.

Scott Owens serves as an APAS director for district six which encompasses the north east corner of the province.

Owens told paNOW that when it comes to dealing with oil companies wanting access to land, farmers and other landowners have limited rights.

“When energy companies apply to come on your land to extract the oil, really landowners can never say no, you can negotiate you can discuss terms and so on, but you can’t say no,” he said.

This issue has become all the more relevant now as the recent drop in oil prices has been hard on the industry. This can leave farmers and landowners who have sites on their property in a bad situation if the company which owns the well goes out of business.

“There is no recourse, when companies go broke you are in trouble, you have a large liability on your land and there’s very little support from the province in that situation,” he said.

Owens said there is a board of appeal which is designed to bring the company and landowner together to find solutions to disputes. However, Owens said the panel tends to come down on one side more often the other.

“In recent years the board typically rules 95 per cent of the time on the side of the energy company,” he said.

The appeal process is as well difficult for farmers according to Owens, as energy companies tend to have a team of lawyers while the landowner may be on their own or have a single lawyer.  

“The playing field is not level currently,” he said.

There has been discussion in the past about amending the legislation which governs sub surface rights in Saskatchewan. The legislation has not been changed since 1968 despite the changes in the oil industry and farming since then.

Owens recently met with the Government of Saskatchewan including Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre. He said the current government does not seem interested in making any changes.

“No, they’re not looking at it right now, they feel that the energy industry is too fragile to absorb new regulations around the surface rights act,” he said.

David Mitchell sat on the panel at the APAS meeting where sub surface rights were discussed. Mitchell, who works with West Central Saskatchewan Surface Rights Organization, told paNOW landowner groups have been working for some time to get the current laws changed.

“We seem to keep running into a brick wall,” he said.

Mitchell who has worked in the oil industry in the past, along with being a farmer, said landowner organizations have submitted briefs to the government on what changes they would like to be made.

“Just simply address it in the legislature,” he said.

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