British Columbia

B.C. premier and energy minister announce $120M plan to clean up orphan and dormant oil and gas wells

B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial Energy Minister Bruce Ralston announced plans Wednesday to use $120 million in federal funds to clean up thousands of so-called orphan oil and gas wells.

Plan will use federal money to clean up inactive wells and to address damage from 'legacy' sites

British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston announced Wednesday $120 million in federal funds will be used to clean up thousands of so-called orphan oil and gas wells in B.C. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial Energy Minister Bruce Ralston announced plans Wednesday to use $120 million in federal funds to clean up thousands of so-called orphan oil and gas wells.

Ralston said the plan is aimed at cleaning up damage from dormant and abandoned wells, as well as the "legacy" problems caused by historical oil and gas exploration.

"This is an environmental stain on British Columbia," Horgan said at a news conference held to announce the plan.

Ralston said the plan will use $120 million in federal funds directed to the province for the specific purpose of cleaning up orphan wells. Horgan said the government wants to use the money to both clean up the environment and to inject money into the economy as part of provincial plans to restart the economy in the face of COVID-19.

The plan involves $100 million in funds to clean up dormant sites which have been inactive for five years or more and $15 million for orphan wells whose owners are insolvent and can't be located.

The last $5 million will go to mitigate the continuing environmental impacts caused by "legacy" oil and gas exploration.

Ralston said 357 of British Columbia's more than 25,000 well sites are considered orphaned, but more than 7,600 are considered dormant. 

The minister said the programs are expected to support 1,200 jobs in the oil and gas services sector.

'Environmental and cultural relevance'

Ottawa announced the funding last month.

Ralston said Indigenous communities, local governments and landowners would be able to nominate sites for decommissioning, reclamation or restoration.

"Through these three programs, we are accelerating the cleanup of thousands of orphan and inactive wells," Ralston said.

"This allows us to restore lands of important environmental and cultural relevance."

Applications for the program will be accepted beginning May 25.

The announcement met with applause from a spectrum of interested parties, including the Petroleum Services Association of Canada. 

Leaders of several affected First Nations said they were pleased to see the province look at addressing the long-term damage done to their territories by oil and gas exploration.

The director of the Pembina Institute said the program represented a step in the right direction but also cautioned that taxpayers should not have to bear the cost for future cleanup of wells.

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