Alberta regulator halts hearing on sour gas wells

CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Alberta regulators suspended a hearing on Thursday on a controversial plan by Petro-Canada PCA.TO to drill sour gas wells in southern Alberta after one of its workers began a personal relationship with one of the oil company's employees.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board, which regulates energy companies in Alberta, said it hired an investigator to determine if the relationship compromised the hearing or threatened its role as an impartial adjudicator.

“It’s just to ensure the integrity of the process,” said Bob Curran, a spokesman for the board.

The halt comes less than two years after the regulator was rocked by scandal after it hired investigators to spy on groups opposed to construction of a power line.

That sparked the resignation of several key executives and prompted the Alberta government to split the regulator into two arms, with one covering electricity and other overseeing oil and gas development.

Curran said privacy laws prevented the board from revealing any personal details about the employee, who has been put on administrative leave.

Both the Petro-Canada employee and the board employee were involved in the hearing, but the board’s worker was not in a decision-making role. The board employee disclosed the relationship earlier this week.

Petro-Canada’s plans to drill for sour gas, which contains deadly hydrogen-sulfide, in a sensitive region of the Rocky Mountain foothills of southern Alberta is being opposed by local ranchers and environmentalists.

Petro-Canada could not be immediately reached for comment. (Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Andre Grenon)