Monday, 29 May, 2017

Alberta aims to speed up orphan well cleanup with $235-million loan

THE CANADIAN PRESS  Larry MacDougal THE CANADIAN PRESS Larry MacDougal
Frank Williams | 19 May, 2017, 09:00

Alberta's NDP government is trying to speed up the cleanup of orphan oil and gas wells with a $235-million loan. "There's no getting by that", Premier Rachel Notley said, making the announcement Thursday at the site of an orphaned well near Carstairs, Alta. Albertans are concerned about the growing number of orphaned oil and gas wells, and the landowners directly impacted deserve a government that takes this issue seriously.

"This is about creating jobs and fixing a long-standing problem", Notley said.

It's estimated this loan would lead to up to 1,650 new jobs in reclamation work over the next three years, reducing the liability facing the OWA by approximately one-third. If this system fails, Alberta's oil industry collectively funds an Orphan Well Association that works to close and "reclaim" the land around old, unwanted wells.

Orphaned wells, which are no longer producing and haven't been properly sealed, are the biggest concern because they no longer have a company responsible for them and could pollute groundwater and soil.

"Our industry has experienced one of the most profound downturns in decades and continues to experience the fallout of the Redwater legal decision", said Brad Herald, chair of the association.

As of March, the Orphan Well Association had a list of 2,084 wells to be dealt with.

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The province's energy regulator is seeking an appeal of the Redwater Energy case at the Supreme Court of Canada, in the hopes of setting a precedent that would divert more money to well cleanup.

"It allows us to do it at a time when the costs are lower and people are looking for the work", she explained.

Industry is expected to pay back the loan over ten years.

"But the loan idea is a smart way to accelerate these projects, supplement the annual funding already provided by industry, and put some Albertans back to work on these projects sooner - which we like", Mr. Leach said. Orphaned wells pose a significant environmental risk for communities and the landowners who have inherited these impacts with no responsible owner.

It was also welcomed on the environmental front. Alberta has about 180,000 wells now in operation, according to the government, but also counts another 83,000 "inactive" wells - where there is still an owner but activity at the well has stopped due to technical, or economic, reasons. "Pembina is encouraged by this effort in parallel with the ongoing efforts to review and reform the existing inadequate rules in place to address root causes of this problem and ensure that liabilities for cleanup are not transferred to Albertans".

Notley called the $235-million loan a good first step to address Alberta's well inventory, but the government and energy regulator are conducting a wider review to identify measures created to prevent the stockpile from growing much further.

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