Alberta warned it could take 2,800 years to clean up oilpatch

It may take more than 2,800 years to clean up some of the decommissioned oil and gas wells currently dotting Alberta’s landscape, a senior regulatory official warned in a recent presentation made privately to the industry.

That means the burden of returning the land to a natural state — called reclamation — could fall on the next 93 generations. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) official outlined the situation in a September 2018 presentation to oil and gas professionals as he made the case for stronger regulations.

While industry and government officials have long touted Alberta’s oversight as world-class and ahead of other jurisdictions, Rob Wadsworth, vice-president of closure and liability for the AER warned in the presentation that the province’s oilpatch was facing a financial and ecological catastrophe due to weak regulations.

The Alberta Energy Regulator privately estimates it could take 2,800 years to clean up some of the province’s oil and gas wells. That’s 93 generations. Read the latest in our #PriceOfOil investigation with @TorontoStar @EmmaMci @mikedesouza:

It’s unlikely that well-owning companies will be around to clean up the mess in a few hundred years, said Blake Shaffer, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University who has studied well liabilities in Alberta.

“This is a big issue, and we need some policy changes,” said Shaffer, who is also a C.D. Howe Institute fellow and economist at the University of Calgary. “These shouldn’t be things that are multi-generational.”

National Observer obtained the presentation through a freedom-of-information request as part of a joint investigation with Star Calgary.

It doesn’t say how many wells would remain on the landscape for thousands of years, nor does it name the companies because “ the presentation may no longer represent the current state,” an AER spokesperson said in a May 21 email responding to questions from National Observer and the Star.


At left, one of the original mine pits at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake oil sands mine in Alberta, Canada. At right, the same area after reclamation.

Before: One of the original mine pits at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake oil sands mine.

And after: Syncrude’s reclaimed Mildred Lake oil sands mine, in Alberta, Canada.

Gateway Hill, Syncrude’s certified reclaimed area, was planted in the early 1980s.


Categorised in: