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ConocoPhillips Sahtu well capping plan needs work: Council of Canadians

ConocoPhillips is planning on capping its exploratory wells in the Sahtu this winter and then inspecting them every five years, but the Council of Canadians wants a more comprehensive monitoring plan.

ConocoPhillips says wells will be inspected every 5 years, Council says that's not good enough

ConocoPhillips drilled two exploratory horizontal wells near Norman Wells, N.W.T., in the winter of 2014. The company hopes to cap those wells in 2015. (CBC)

The N.W.T. chapter of the Council of Canadians wants ConocoPhillips to beef up its plan to monitor inactive wells in the Sahtu.

ConcoPhillips horizontally fractured two of its four exploration wells about 20 to 50 kilometres south of Norman Wells last year. This winter, it wants to go back and cap them all — sealing the well-heads until they're used again or officially abandoned. An application to do the work is currently before the Sahtu Land and Water Board.

Once the wells have been capped, the company plans to inspect them next spring, then, if there are no problems, every five years until exploration starts again or the company determines they won't be opened again.

At that point, the wells would be cut below the surface level and plugged for good.

However, some N.W.T. residents, including Lois Little, who is with the Council of Canadians, say that monitoring the wells every five years isn't good enough.

"We know that leakage from the well casing is something that does occur," she says, "and the possibility of it occurring increases as those wells age."

The Council of Canadians wants ConocoPhillips to regularly monitor ground water around the four wells, and the condition of the casings, and report the findings to the public. They are also asking ConocoPhillips to disclose how much fracking fluid was recovered from the wells, and how much was left behind.

In an e-mail response, ConocoPhillips says it did report on chemicals it used to frack the two wells — but on the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry website, hosted by the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission. The company also says it will revise its plans if there are any problems after the wells are sealed.

The public has until June 12 to submit comments to the Sahtu Land and Water Board on ConocoPhillips' plans.

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