Established by the Government of Alberta in 1938 and known first as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board, the agency's purpose was to ensure proper procedures were followed in oil and gas development and production throughout the province and to stop the wasteful flaring of natural gas at Turner Valley. This independent quasi-judicial body developed and applied policies for the effective conservation of Alberta's oil and gas resources. Since the period of excess productive capacity following the major Leduc discovery in 1947, it has regulated rates of production to permit equitable access to markets by all producers. It also ensures that only natural gas which is surplus to Alberta's long-term needs is sold outside the province.

In 1971, the board's mandate was expanded to include pipelines, coal and electricity, and its name was changed to the Energy Resources Conservation Board. Composed of up to 6 Cabinet-appointed members, the board's responsibilities are set forth in Acts of the Legislature. The board, supported by a substantial technical and professional staff, must regulate the operation of existing energy facilities, and evaluate and decide on applications for new or expanded energy projects. Its decisions are final in many areas, but comprise recommendations to the government when they relate to matters which have far-reaching implications. Public hearings are typically part of the process whenever the issues are complex or controversial. The ERCB also provides comprehensive statistics and information to the public, government, and industry on all aspects of Alberta's energy resource sector.