Alberta Energy Regulator weighing 'further action' against former executives

Alberta’s oil and gas regulator is weighing “further action” against some of its former executives following three provincial probes into a now-defunct international training centre called ICORE.

Bev Yee, interim chair of the Alberta Energy Regulator, told a legislative committee this week the public agency has strengthened its policies in the time since the investigations wrapped up this fall.

Asked whether there was anything in its policies that would allow for further investigation or action against those involved, Yee indicated the AER may not be finished dealing with former staff with ties to ICORE.

“The interim board has opted to retain external counsel, which we have already done, to get some advice around that matter, whether there is further action that we could be taking against those individuals,” she said Tuesday.

“We have yet to receive that advice but we expect to receive that quite shortly.”

Yee did not elaborate on what kind of action might be under consideration.

No one at the AER was available to discuss the matter with CBC News, but the regulator issued a short statement saying its board of directors “is currently using outside counsel to evaluate possible options.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator, which is funded by a levy charged to the energy sector, oversees the province’s oil and gas sector and is expected to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development.

Earlier this year, Alberta’s auditor general, public interest commissioner and ethics commissioner launched probes into the AER’s establishment of the International Centre for Regulatory Excellence, or ICORE, in 2017.

They found resources were wrongfully used to establish the centre outside the AER’s mandate, while its former CEO Jim Ellis displayed “reckless and wilful disregard” for proper management of public funds.

The auditor general’s report said controls to track and monitor expenses related to ICORE activities were at first non-existent and then poorly implemented.

It also reported the tone at the top at AER did not support a strong control environment or compliance with policies and that a “culture of fear” at the AER stifled concerns regarding ICORE activities.

The auditor general estimated the total financial impact of ICORE activities on the AER totalled $5.4 million, though $3.1 million was recouped. The AER is still out of pocket $2.3 million, according to October’s report.

Yee told the committee on Tuesday that the activity related to ICORE was driven by a few key individuals and that those individuals are no longer employed by the AER.

UCP MLA Drew Barnes asked Yee during the meeting whether those individuals received any severance. 

Yee said of the five individuals who were involved, only one received severance, noting the departure occurred prior to the board receiving the results of the ICORE probes and that there was a contractual agreement in place.

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