Reclaiming Tomorrow Today: Regulating well site retirement to benefit the environment

Reclaiming Tomorrow Today: Regulating well site retirement to benefit the environment

ImageTens of thousands of oil and gas wells sit unproductively on the landscape, either suspended or abandoned. These sites reflect an ongoing liability and have continuing impacts on the environment.  Few regulatory tools exist to prescribe timely abandonment and reclamation and this leads to continued delay in dealing with environmental impacts. The Government of Alberta is on the verge of moving energy activities to a “single energy regulator,” and this, according to an Environmental Law Centre (ELC) report, is an opportune time to address the continuing impacts on biodiversity, landowner rights, and ecological function. 

“The Government of Alberta has reported on how delays in reclamation continue to pile up” says Jason Unger, Staff Counsel with the Environmental Law Centre. “Current policies and regulations are ill equipped to properly deal with unwarranted delays in addressing the impacts of wells that have sat suspended and unreclaimed for years.”

The ELC’s report, Reclaiming Tomorrow Today, proposes specific regulatory amendments that would see abandoned sites and related infrastructure begin the reclamation process within 1 year. Suspended sites would have to justify their continued suspension through an application to the Regulator, resulting in the well being designated inactive. Where continued suspension is not justified, abandonment of the well site would be required within 9 months.

“These regulatory timelines will provide concrete environmental benefits to Albertans and assist in managing the cumulative effects of our energy development. It is one step in what needs to be a broader strategy to reign in impacts on our environment,” says Unger.

The ELC proposal would see two separate systems of abandonment and reclamation, one for private land and one for public. The private land proposal enables a landowner to object to ongoing suspensions which might then lead to a written hearing about whether the ongoing suspension is justified.

You can download Reclaiming Tomorrow Today at http://www.elc.ab.ca/Content_Files/Files/Reclaiming_Tomorrow_Today.pdf.

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