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Massive taxpayer loan to fund cleanup of Alberta's dirty, abandoned oil wells

19 May 2017

Albertans will have a cleaner, safer environment and more jobs in the process thanks to a funding boost to address orphaned wells.

Alberta's NDP government is trying to speed up the cleanup of orphan oil and gas wells with a $235-million loan.

Ottawa's infusion of $30-million, announced in the federal budget in March and earmarked for well cleanup in Alberta, will pay interest costs on the $235-million, the Premier added. "We're here today to help fix the growing orphaned well problem and create good jobs for Albertans at the same time". Albertans are concerned about the growing number of orphaned oil and gas wells, and the landowners directly impacted deserve a government that takes this issue seriously.

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"We applaud the Government of Alberta for leveraging the federal funds to allow a greater number of sites to be decommissioned sooner rather than later, thereby creating more jobs" said Mark Salkeld, president and chief executive officer of PSAC.

The government loan, which will be directed to the association, still abides by the polluter pays principle, the Premier said.

The OWA says the industry has contributed nearly $250 million to date to successfully abandon nearly 100 wells and reclaim over 600.

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The loan program would be in addition to the ongoing closure and reclamation operations done every year by the OWA. The loan will be repaid to the Alberta government over a 10-year period. "This loan will help ensure we can retain the skills and expertise needed for responsible development of our energy resources, and positively contribute to Alberta's reputation as responsible stewards of the environment". Alberta has about 180,000 wells now in operation, according to the government, but also counts another 83,000 "inactive" wells - where there is still an owner but activity at the well has stopped due to technical, or economic, reasons. Orphaned wells pose a significant environmental risk for communities and the landowners who have inherited these impacts with no responsible owner.

Way said the Pembina Institute is encouraged by the province's "parallel efforts to review and reform the existing, inadequate rules to address the root causes of orphaned wells in the first place".

The industry-funded, not-for-profit group manages the shutting and cleanup of oil and gas sites where there is no longer anyone legally responsible for those tasks, often because a company has gone out of business.

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Tens of thousands more have been abandoned and plugged with concrete, but not fully reclaimed; and 82,546 are inactive, meaning no more oil or natural gas is being produced, but the wells haven't been plugged and could, at least theoretically, be brought back to life. This work will continue through 2017.

Massive taxpayer loan to fund cleanup of Alberta's dirty, abandoned oil wells