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Bill WhitelawHere’s a new revenue idea for the Alberta government that combines one of the province’s core strengths with one of its key aspirations – and one of its biggest problems.

The strength: the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

The aspiration: to continue to globally build Alberta’s brand as an energy leader and sustainable energy centre of excellence.

The problem: thousands of some of the world’s brightest geoscience and engineering minds are unemployed.

Beyond what these men and women know about rocks and reservoirs, they have one other key attribute: they worked within one of the world’s most highly regulated petroleum jurisdictions.

Note the past tense, since they are no longer employed. Talk about a brain drain.

And every day they’re not working, experience and enthusiasm ebb away.

The AER has been one of the world’s best regulators for decades. It’s one of our most under-valued and under-utilized assets when it comes to showcasing Alberta’s abilities to balance economic and environmental imperatives. We’ve been at it since the Turner Valley boom of the 1930s, when the need to balance responsible resource development and conservation came into sharp focus. The regulator’s mission has been unwavering: to be in sync with and lead an ever-dynamic industry.

AER staff work in jurisdictions around the world, guiding and advising other energy economies looking for progressive and evolving regulatory regimes: Mexico, Poland and the United Kingdom, among others. They are all building next-generation regulatory frameworks influenced by Alberta experiences and best practices.

There are plenty of other countries that have benefited similarly as Alberta regulatory DNA is implanted globally. That’s a lot of Alberta energy ethos at work.

Each year, the AER hosts dozens of international delegations looking to learn how to put theory into practice.

It’s time to think more strategically about the AER as a business brand. The trust it has established is a marketer’s dream.

This is bound to make some bureaucrats and politicians uneasy. It’s their mistaken view that too much fanfare around the regulator’s competencies makes it too cosy with the industry it’s supposed to regulate.

But perception doesn’t have to be reality.

So the AER should deputizing Alberta’s unemployed technical experts with relevant regulatory experience and send them abroad as paid experts.

Other jurisdictions get the benefits of the practical experience of professionals who have worked within a deeply regulated environment. And they will get the benefit of hands-on experience from these geophysicists, geologists and engineers.

They would provide superb interface between foreign jurisdictions’ regulators and the companies operating there. These professionals would also help take the burden off existing AER staff.

The jurisdictions benefiting from that experience would pay the Alberta government directly, bypassing the AER and preserving its independence. The revenue stream wouldn’t be huge but the brand dividends would be priceless.

Think of it: individuals representing centuries of experience acting as technical brand ambassadors for Alberta. And they get to keep their skills sharp and bring the benefit of global experience back to the province.

And once a best-in-class regulator beats a path somewhere, new trade export opportunities will often follow because anyone with Alberta-based operating experience has a built-in competitive advantage. That’s evident with the attention being paid by Canadian companies to opportunities in Mexico, where the AER influence is profound.

Plus, good regulation makes for good business. It creates a competitive environment because the regulator regulates for government, industry – and for the citizens who own the resource.

Alberta can’t afford to lose its intellectual edge if it hopes to maintain its global reputation as a leader capable of transitioning effectively from one energy generation to the next.

Get out those deputy badges.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Bill is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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