Your Trees do have Value

by the Agroforestry & Woodlet Extension Society 

Most people that live in Alberta have trees as part of their landscape. That can be in the yard around their home as ornamentals and fruit trees, or it can be in rural Alberta as large tracts of natural native trees that existed prior to any land clearing or shelterbelts and windbreaks that have been planted over the years. Those trees have a large variety of value to the owners and the communities in the province. So how do you find out those values and what can you do manage or improve those values?

In 2019 the Agroforestry & Woodlot Extension Society initiated a project, with support from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, to assist primarily rural landowners of acreages and farms in learning about the value of their trees and also how manage aspects of the trees to improve the growth and quality of the trees and the overall value of their property. However, the project efforts can also benefit landowners in cities, towns, and small hamlets as all these areas have plenty to trees and can use some assistance.

The project involved meeting with landowners talking about their treed area or about an area they would like in trees and providing them advise on best way to achieve their goals. In many cases, the conversation turned to how to successfully plant more trees or how to improve the health and growth of their existing trees. Over the past year the program resulted in benefits to over 30 landowners, leading to six new planting projects that involved planting over 20,000 trees on private lands in central and northwest Alberta. It also has the potential of creating another 6-8 projects that will be planted in the spring of 2021, with a growing number as the project proceeds.

So, what are some of the values that might come from your trees? There are obvious values like producing wood if the tree is cut down, to be used in the manufacture of many things, including most of the homes in Alberta, but there are a lot of other values that they can provide as they stand and live in our backyards. As examples: trees will affect the microclimate (climate of a localised area) around them, primarily by altering wind, potentially reducing heating and cooling costs by 17.5% – 25%, and protecting livestock; they act as a physical buffer for odours and particulates, improving air quality; the reduction of wind speed prevents the movement of valuable topsoil off of fields and helps prevent the drying situation that leads to loose soils in the first place. One of the most beneficial synergies of trees is in how they interact with water and water bodies on a property. Their ability to control snow can be quite extensive, and they can act as water filters for runoff. Wooded areas also offer a variety of habitats for wildlife, which in turn offer their own benefits.

This partnership has allowed us to demonstrate that there are many and varied values the forested areas and trees can have, from their economic values to their inherent value as natural areas. Due to the complexity of these forested areas and trees, it is important to look at each case individually, and assess a forest or shelterbelt’s value on a case-by-case basis. All of this is explained in detail in the educational document produced as part of the project on the many and wonderful values that trees provide to people.

What do rural landowners need to know about inactive and orphaned wells?

Pembina Institute’s latest primer on oil and gas liabilities in Alberta

By Nikki Way and Morrigan Simpson-Marran

Increasingly, Albertans have heard about the number of oil and gas wells that sit inactive, neglected, or potentially orphaned in this province. Inactive and orphaned well numbers are growing in parallel with a prolonged energy recession in Alberta since 2014. Often this issue is discussed in an abstract way, mainly focusing on the financial implications for the province or referencing liabilities that companies do not have the funds to properly care for, which raises questions about whether some of these wells will be cleaned up at all.

At the end of the day, rural landowners are the ones who have this infrastructure on their land and have to live with these uncertainties. With support from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the Pembina Institute has published the Landowner’s primer: what you need to know about unreclaimed oil and gas wells to help those who are most impacted. Designed as a complementary follow up to our 2016 publication, the Landowners’ Guide to Oil and Gas Development , this primer addresses questions and examines problems landowners face when dealing with operators who are under financial strain and still have unreclaimed oil and gas infrastructure on landowners’ property.

Since the price downturn of 2014, multitudes of oil and gas companies that had accrued significant clean-up costs in Alberta have declared bankruptcy, in some cases leaving their infrastructure under the care of the Orphan Well Association. Many of the names of bankrupt operators have been in the news recently, such as Sequoia Resources, Lexin Resources, Trident Exploration, and Redwater Energy.

Although these are some of the high profile examples of operators who reneged on their responsibility to clean up hundreds – and in some cases, thousands – of wells, there are many other lesser known instances in which landowners are left with few answers for what might happen, or even who they could seek out to get questions answered. Currently in Alberta there are 90,000 inactive wells and 3,406 orphan wells that are up for abandonment (also known as decommissioning), while another 2,772 orphan sites need to be reclaimed.

Frequently, when wells are orphaned, sold off in bankruptcy, or even neglected and left inactive by companies that are financially struggling, landowners are left without an explanation of how to proceed and what their rights are. They may struggle to navigate the process of insolvency, or to understand the role of the operator or the regulator through this process.

The Pembina Institute’s Landowner’s primer outlines what a typical reclamation process should look like, and what issues may arise if the reclamation process does not go as planned. It explains what may happen if the operator on your land declares bankruptcy, and who might take over the responsibility of the well next. It offers guidance on issues such as missed lease payments and who to contact in case of a leak from the well. It also offers advice on how to navigate an untended well site. Should more questions remain, the guide has a list of contacts for landowners in order to get the help they need.

Without legislative changes that can ensure the timely reclamation of oil and gas infrastructure before companies reach their financial limits, many landowners will continue to experience this problem. It is important that as many landowners as possible have resources to navigate this situation.

Whether you are a real estate professional, an organization that works with landowners, or if you have an oil or gas well on your property, this primer is for you. You can download a copy of the Landowner’s primer: what you need to know about unreclaimed oil and gas wells. In addition, you can order a printed copy of the Landowners’ Guide to Oil and Gas Development for the cost of shipping.

Download your copy of the Landowner’s primer. 

About the Pembina Institute
The Pembina Institute is a non-profit think-tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean energy transition. We have offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. Learn more: www.pembina.org

Rural Climate Solutions Online Resources and Broadcasting

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

The Stettler Learning Centre is creating a series of podcasts and a website that are “part educational tool, part source of inspiration” aimed at Alberta producers who want to understand what they can do on the farm to help move toward a clean energy economy.

“This podcast comes straight out of Alberta—one of Canada’s biggest agriculture and energy producers— and dives into the technology and practices that are both good for the farm and good for the climate,” says Derek Leahy, the project coordinator for Rural Routes to Climate Solutions at the Stettler Learning Centre. “The agriculture sector is often characterized as a cause of climate change as opposed to a solution but most people do not realize that there are farming practices that can help us in the fight against climate change.”

From solar power to better land management, many of the practices that can help the environment can also help improve farming and ranching operations. “There are many producers who do not realize many climate solutions can help their farming and ranching operations thrive,” says Leahy. For example, using biodiversity can boost productivity, manage pests and help the land endure Alberta’s endless cycle of floods and droughts. Another podcast covers the benefits of formalizing a cooperative among agricultural producers to save on costs and minimize operators’ environmental footprints.

“Producers are constantly looking for opportunities and new techniques to improve my agricultural operations,” says Leahy. “Our project connects those dots by providing clear, informative and entertaining explanations on how producers can benefit from using climate solutions on their land.”

AREF’s support for the project allows the Learning Centre extend an existing program that received funding from the Alberta Government Community Environment Action Grant program. The initial program developed workshops and other materials for producers about agricultural and land-use practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Turning those materials into podcasts provides a really convenient method for producers to consume the information. “For producers, time is limited and it is also a precious commodity. But with the podcast, a producer can simply download episodes on to his or her phone and listen on the job, particularly on those days that they’re on a tractor or combine all day.” says Leahy.

“It is our hope that through this easily accessible method of learning, producers will be informed and inspired to use climate solutions on their farms. They will benefit and we will all benefit from this.”

Listen to the Rural Routes to Climate Solutions podcast here!

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Alberta Green Condo Guide: Saving money and helping the environment

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta outlines how to capitalize on energy saving opportunities in common areas of a condominium, including centralized heating, cooling and ventilation systems and lighting.

Reducing a building’s energy bills is a huge opportunity to save money and reduce a building’s impact on the environment.   In fact, at least 40 per cent of a condominium building’s operating costs go to gas, electricity and water bills, making utilities the largest controllable expense for any condo corporation.

And most older condos can cut these costs by 30 per cent by doing a few upgrades, adding more efficient lighting or boilers.  Even a newer building can realize savings of at least 15 per cent.

This simple to follow and easy to read 14-page guide outlines a number of steps that will not only reduce a condo’s energy use—saving money and reducing emissions—it will result in a more comfortable and well maintained building.

The step-by-step overview of how you can green a condo begins with information on how to baseline and benchmark a building’s energy use, perform an energy audit and set goals.  Next, it goes through a high level explanation of how to identify opportunities for improvement, assess the business case for upgrades and improvements and develop and track a retrofit plan.

A good energy retrofit will help protect the capital that’s invested in a condo by ensuring the building’s systems are in good operational order and operating costs are under control. A green building is comfortable and cost-efficient, which protects an owner’s investment and is more attractive to buyers.

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta, funded in part with a grant from AREF, is based on work originated by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and adapted for Alberta by the Pembina Institute.

What Lies Beneath? Buyer beware

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: You buy a home, move in, then find out there’s an abandoned gas well beneath, leaking and contaminating your property. Think it can’t happen to you? It can. According to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in November 2012 over 150,000 abandoned well sites dotted the Alberta landscape, making it essential that buyers do their homework.

These nightmares happen because of gaps between what Albertans should know, could know and actually do know about their environment,” says Adam Driedzic, Staff Counsel and author of a new Environmental Law Centre publication, What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta.

In real estate transactions the onus is generally on the buyer to do their due diligence and the general rule for buying and selling real estate is ‘buyer beware’. Unfortunately there’s no checklist to prove due diligence and no one-stop shop for environmental information.

The best way to demonstrate due diligence is to identify environmental concerns, learn what information is available about those concerns and act on that knowledge. Buyers who make inquiries into the environmental conditions of the specific site and the local area are in the best position to make sound choices and solid deals.

Most land in Alberta has already been used for something. In Calmar, oil and gas extraction took place on farmland that was re-zoned, subdivided, developed into a residential community and sold without exposing what lay beneath or what other activities had taken place on the land previously.

And in Alberta it isn’t just oil and gas activities that are concerning. Whether you’re looking to buy a giant parcel of farmland or a tiny infill lot in the city, there are many activities that can impact the land, air and water that surround your potential new home. Feedlots, pesticide application, old dry-cleaners or landfills – even recreational activities like off highway vehicle use – can affect your quality of life.

What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta provides practical information-finding tips, outlines environmental concerns you may want to think about and describes where to get started to find the information you need to make the best choices when buying property in Alberta. A twelve-page booklet based on this guidebook, Buyer Beware, is also available.

The Environmental Law Centre is Alberta’s leading environmental public policy and law reform charity. The full publication and booklet can both be downloaded on the Environmental Law Centre website.

Back by popular demand: Green Acreages Guide

If you or a client escaped the city to a small acreage, would you know how to protect and maintain it? Would you know where your water comes from or where your septic tank resides? What are your responsibilities when it comes to weed control and how could municipal bylaws affect you? These are just some of the topics explored in The Green Acreages Guide Primer, Stewardship for Small Acreages. This Primer was written and released by Land Stewardship Centre, accompanied by a more detailed and self- directed Green Acreages Guide workbook for landowners.
Land Stewardship Centre (LSC) is an Edmonton-based organization, working throughout Alberta and western Canada, that helps people improve their understanding of healthy ecosystems. They encourage the development of practices and policies that support sustainable resource use. LSC has watched the ownership of small acreages, hobby farms and recreational properties grow over the years. In 2002, LSC developed its first booklet for this audience entitled “Tips and References for Owners of Acreages and Small Farms.” A subsequent production was released in 2005. Demand for this publication was strong and in 2010, LSC was approached about reprinting the original. The demand for information on how best to manage rural properties in a sustainable manner was still strong. This provided the ideal opportunity for Land Stewardship Centre to update their information and try something a bit different.
Land Stewardship Centre has published two connected documents: a Primer and a Workbook. When property owners understand the basics outlined in the Primer, they may be ready to discover new ways to steward their acreage or recreational property. At this point they are ready for the Workbook. This comprehensive guide features charts and templates they can use to plan and store information about their property.
The Alberta Real Estate Foundation was the key sponsor of the Primer and in helping distribute both documents through real estate professionals. Cheryl De Paoli, Executive Director at the Foundation said, “We welcomed news of this initiative as it provides a single source for this type of information. We believe it will become a valued resource for new and existing landowners who wish to be more sustainable.”
The Green Acreages Guide Workbook is available for purchase from Land Stewardship Centre for $29.95 plus GST. For a REALTOR, it may be the perfect gift to give a new rural customer. For more information on the Land Stewardship Centre, or to purchase the Workbook, visit their website at www.landstewardship.org