Half of B.C.’s orphan well sites decommissioned

The BC Oil and Gas Commission says it has decommissioned more than half of the province's 770 orphan well sites.

It’s a key step on the path to full restoration of orphan sites, which requires multiple stages, the Commission said in an update Tuesday.

"The Orphan Sites Supplemental Reclamation Program benefits both our economy and environment, providing jobs for local workers and reducing the impacts of oil and gas development in the Northeast," Energy Minister Bruce Ralston said in a statement.

Well decommissioning refers to the permanent plugging of a well and removing the wellhead, while site decommissioning means any surface equipment has been removed from the site.

Reclamation is the replacement of soils and revegetation, which after monitoring, has met all necessary requirements and is eligible for a Certificate of Restoration. Following reclamation, a Certificate of Restoration can take up to several years to achieve.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, almost 100 wells will be decommissioned, more than 90 equipment sites will be decommissioned, more than 50 sites will be remediated, and at least 50 sites will be fully reclaimed, the Commission said.

“The significant progress being made on decommissioning activities will allow for increased focus on completing restoration work on remaining orphan sites,” the Commission said.

In addition to the planned $30 million collected from levies on oil and gas operators to restore orphan sites, B.C. received $15 million from the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package in April 2020 to address orphan site restoration, the Commission said.

All orphan work is required to be performed by qualified service providers that are registered in B.C., and the Commission said it is supporting communities where the majority of energy development occurs by using service providers based in northeast B.C.

Last year the Commission created an online portal where 80 orphan sites were nominated and evaluated for funding. Two were nominated by local governments, seven by land owners, and 71 by Indigenous communities, according to the Commission.

There are seven Indigenous-owned contractors doing restoration work on orphan sites through existing programs, and another two local service providers that have agreements with Indigenous communities, the Commission said.

“This is an important step in ensuring those directly affected by orphan wells have a say in their restoration”, said BC Oil and Gas Commissioner & CEO Paul Jeakins. “Working in partnership with local governments, land owners, and Indigenous communities will result in meaningful reclamation on the land.”

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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