Alberta’s Dormant Wells Could Go Green

By Ben Hamill - April 30 2021
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Alberta’s Dormant Wells Could Go Green

A new report proposes a second, greener life for Alberta’s dormant gas and oil sites, with the 2,600 orphan wells in the province now cited as potential alternative energy sources. But in order for this to become a reality, provincial decision-makers will first have to clear away the many regulatory gaps holding up the process of rehabilitation and repurposing.

Prepared by the Canada West Foundation and the Energy Futures Lab, the report makes an urgent call on local policymakers to work towards a more favourable collaborative partnership between local regulators. The report was compiled as a joint effort, with input received new energy ventures, law firms, Alberta landowners, and even the oil patch itself.

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Moving Regulatory Roadblocks

According to Energy Futures Lab’s Julie Rohl, those entrepreneurs who have attempted to set the ball in motion for the repurposing of old gas and oil infrastructure, have mostly been met with regulatory “roadblocks”.

One of these roadblocks has emerged to be the particular management approach currently in place, explained Rohl. Regulated by several different governing and regulatory bodies, Rohl said any attempts at repurposing and rehabilitation had been slowed or even thwarted by rules and regulations.

Eye-opening is that, according to the latest report, there are currently a massive number of inactive wells in the province, with the estimated number somewhere around 95,000. Of these, around 2,600 have been left behind by facilities that have not had the financial means to set in motion any sort of remedial process or rehabilitation. There are also currently an estimated 34,000 orphan sites requiring decommission in Alberta alone.

Redeeming The Problem

Orphaned wells could potentially pose massive environmental as well as public financial liability for the province, explains the report. In 2020 alone, Canada’s federal government made available to the province some CA$1 billion in financial aid for the cleaning up of the abandoned gas and oil sites.

But not all gas and oil sites in the province are beyond redemption. Some of them are excellent candidates for being turned into clean-energy sources – including lithium recovery sites, hydrogen, geothermal, and even micro-solar energy plants.

The report furthermore proposes that coming up with redemptive uses for old energy wells and infrastructure will not only directly help the environment, but it will also create thousands of jobs for Albertans and several big new business opportunities for tax-paying landowners.

According to Marla Orenstein of the Canada West Foundation, Alberta’s discarded oil and gas sites offer the potential of redeeming and turning round a problem before it manages to spiral out of hand – and even create all-new opportunities in the process.

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