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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Hydrocarbons > Crude Oil > Land Use > Surface Rights

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Surface Rights

In addition to mineral rights and joint ventures, land departments must arrange surface access agreements for seismic surveys, well sites, access roads and pipelines with the parties directly affected by exploration activities. These may include: land owners, other oil and gas companies, government departments, grazing lease holders and forestry companies. In areas where there are Aboriginal interests, such as land claims, settlements or reserves, First Nations communities are consulted regarding impacts of the proposed oil and gas activity on Aboriginal rights.

Strict laws apply to an oil and gas company's use of surface rights. The company must lease the land from the surface owner, establish an annual rental fee for use of the land, and agree to pay for all damages or inconvenience caused by the presence of equipment or facilities. After operations cease, the company must reclaim agricultural land to "equivalent land capability" as regulated by most Canadian jurisdictions. If surface access cannot be negotiated for Crown mineral rights, right of entry may be obtained through a process known as "surface rights arbitration" whereby a quasi-judicial board can grant right-of-entry and rule on matters of compensation.

Companies try to locate wells, roads and pipelines where they will have the least impact on nearby residents and the environment. Topsoil is removed and stockpiled for use in eventual reclamation. The cleared area around the well, sometimes referred to as the "lease," is fenced off both to protect facilities and avoid harm to human or animal trespassers.

Petroleum Communication Foundation. Our Petroleum Challenge: Exploring Canada's Oil and Gas Industry, Sixth Edition. Calgary: Petroleum Communication Foundation, 1999. With permission from the Centre for Energy.

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