The B.C. government is moving ahead with cleanup and securing of more than 2,000 “dormant” or “orphaned” natural gas and oil wells, using federal funds to provide some industrial work in B.C.’s northeast region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
B.C.’s $120 million share of a federal fund will accelerate dealing with “an environmental stain on British Columbia,” with more than 7,000 wells that are either dormant or orphaned by the collapse of the company that drilled them, Premier John Horgan said.
“This program will support upwards of 1,200 jobs, helping B.C. workers, the environment and the economy during these challenging times,” Horgan announced May 13.
Applications for reclamation sites from local governments, landowners and Indigenous communities are being accepted beginning May 25, with oil and gas field service companies based in B.C. to do the work.
With the oil and gas industry struggling with a world-wide price slump due to COVID-19 and a trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the industry in B.C. and Alberta has seen an unprecedented slowdown. With Ottawa providing aid to millions of individuals and businesses to help them through the coronavirus pandemic, the well cleanup program is the only one so far that has been directed at oil and gas, Canada’s largest industry.
Most of the cleanup fund, $100 million, is directed at dormant wells, those that have been out of production for at least five years, with little chance they will be restarted. The fund will provide up to 50 per cent of the decommissioning and cleanup costs, or $100,000, whichever is less.
Of the 25,000 oil and gas well sites in B.C., only 357 are considered orphaned, meaning the company that drilled them no longer exists or can’t be located. There is $15 million set aside for those. Another 7,685 are classified as dormant, and the new fund will augment B.C.’s existing reclamation program administered by the Oil and Gas Commission.
The accelerated program was welcomed by Indigenous leaders in northeastern B.C., where decades of drilling and processing have taken place.
“This is a win-win for the oil and gas sector and the environment,” said Chief Sharleen Gale of the Fort Nelson First Nation. “It will bring much-needed local employment for former oil and gas workers and clean up dormant, legacy and orphan wells.”