LETHBRIDGE -- Alberta farmers and landowners, upset about unpaid rent and taxes owed to them by various oil and gas companies, met Thursday at a Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) meeting to discuss the next steps to take in their ongoing efforts to get paid.

“The sheriff hasn’t taken his gun out of the holster,” said Regan Boychuk, an independent researcher for the Alberta Liability Disclosure Project. “The (Alberta Energy) regulator itself and the industry ignore the law on a regular basis,” he added.

Under current laws, oil and gas companies must pay rent to occupy a farmer’s land, but since the 2015 oil shock, many of them have been delinquent with payments.

 Since 2014, over 2,500 landowners have filed a complaint to the Alberta Energy Regulator, to little or no avail for most of them. As a result, some farmers want companies to clean up and leave their land.

“They are saying: you are trespassing on our land, you have no right to be here,” said Mark Dorin, a landowner. “They are correct. The problem is the doors to the (Alberta) Energy Regulator and other outfits that are supposed to do something about it are closed.”

Oil and gas companies owe over $178 million in unpaid rent to Alberta farmers and municipalities.

Because the province cannot charge competitive royalties, Boychuk argues the oil and gas storage model must be changed due to the current oil and gas backlogs.

“We must start uniting landowners, municipalities and concerned citizens around these issues to start cooperating, collaborating, getting active, informed and engaged to help drive desperately needed reforms,” said Boychuk.