There are hundreds of thousands of inactive and abandoned oil and gas wells across Canada, some of which have been deemed as orphans – wells that have been left without decommissioning or cleanup after an oil and gas company is no longer financially capable and/or has gone bankrupt.
These wells, alongside other aging oil and gas infrastructure, present human health and environmental risks through surface, soil and groundwater contamination, as well as leakages of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas emission. The growing issue is also a result of decades of poor regulation and a failure on the part of provincial governments in upholding the ‘polluter pays principle,’ – the generally accepted practice that the producers of pollution should be the ones to bear the costs of managing it, removing it and returning landscapes to their prior functioning.
Presenting positive environmental outcomes alongside job security for struggling oil and gas service workers, well cleanup and reclamation has also been touted as a promising avenue for both COVID-19 emergency measures and the post-pandemic recovery. On April 17, 2020, five weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and with the country’s economy dropping more than one million jobs during the previous month, the Canadian federal government announced new job support measures as part of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. These measures, intended to help stabilize the economy and provide support for individuals and businesses facing pandemic-related hardship, included $1.72 billion toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned (including orphaned) oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. The Government of Alberta received $1 billion of this funding.
With a focus on the province of Alberta, this report presents an early assessment of the federal funding of oil and gas cleanups disbursed as part of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan and the degree to which the federal funding channeled through the provincial government was allocated effectively and efficiently in ways that are compatible with positive social and environmental justice outcomes.
Download the report to learn more.