“Of the approximately 83,000 inactive wells in Alberta, approximately 20,000 were drilled before 1980 and have been inactive for more than 20 years. The number and potential environmental problems posed by these older well sites worsen with time. For example, the number of orphaned wells surged from approximately 705 in 2015 to 5,279 in March 2019, a staggering increase of approximately 648 per cent during that time frame. This failure has led to an environmental hazard for which they provide no realistic solutions to address.

“In response to that failure, the government has introduced regulations mandating oil and gas companies spend a prescribed minimum amount on well site closure and reclamation work. The minimum amount to be spent by industry on this ongoing cleanup work has grown to about $740 million this year and will increase by nine per cent annually in the coming years. This action will fix the orphan well backlog that previous governments failed to address and continue to ignore today.

“In addition, Minister of Energy Peter Guthrie is consulting with landowners, Indigenous groups and industry to design a rehabilitation pilot program to expeditiously clean up these pre-1980 inactive well sites. This consultation process will take several months to complete, after which the cabinet and government caucus will consider the feedback provided and make a final decision on whether and how to proceed with the program.

“The pilot program under consideration would potentially provide a royalty credit on new oil and gas development for energy companies willing to also invest in cleaning up these problematic well sites. The amount spent on cleaning up these sites would have to be over and above the amount these same companies are legally required to spend on regular well site rehabilitation.

“While final decisions have not been made, the total amount of royalty credits proposed to be used for the pilot program is likely to be up to $100 million over three years – after which time, the government would assess the effectiveness of the program and consult again before deciding how best to proceed. It is hoped the pilot program will greatly accelerate the cleanup of the most unpredictable and challenging oil and gas sites in Alberta.

“Bluntly put, these problematic well sites must be promptly and properly cleaned up. The government is designing a pilot for a program that is good for the environment, respects landowners’ rights and the rights of Indigenous groups, and incentivizes industry to simultaneously invest more in both the cleanup of these well sites and new resource development.

“This is the first government to try to find solutions to this problem and we look forward to the results of the consultations.”