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Oil companies shouldn’t get federal cash to clean up oil wells: Saskatchewan NDP

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says plenty of jobs could be created by redeploying laid-off oil and gas workers to clean up defunct wells. File /GETTY IMAGES

REGINA – The Opposition NDP says federal money should not be used to help clean up oil wells in Saskatchewan because there are more important infrastructure projects to be done.

Premier Brad Wall has pitched a proposal to Ottawa for $156 million to clean up old wells that aren’t being used to help create jobs in the oil-and-gas sector.

READ MORE: One way to get ex-oil workers on the job again: cleaning up old wells

But NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon says that money would flow to oil companies, which are required by law to clean up their
own wells.

“Let’s make sure that as we call for federal dollars -recognizing there’s no money tree and there’s one taxpayer – that when we get those federal dollars that we’re utilizing them in a way that’s providing the maximum economic benefit, but also addressing the infrastructure needs of our province,” Wotherspoon said Tuesday.

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People could be put to work on other infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy, such as fixing schools or highways, he said.

Wotherspoon says he knows the energy sector and workers are facing troubles, but adds that the $156 million pitch doesn’t deal with true “orphaned” wells.

Orphaned wells are those in which a company that was the owner no longer exists. Wotherspoon estimates there are about 100 such wells in Saskatchewan.

“This is more of a direct payment, directly to the oil companies right now,” he said.

“And we would see that as being misplaced and not providing the broad economic benefits, job creation and stimulus that we would with investments into those other areas that also make a greater impact into peoples’ lives.”

The government pitch to Ottawa would also include clean up of “suspended” wells, those which are currently not producing. The government estimates there are more than 20,500 “suspended” wells, many of which are waiting to be decommissioned and reclaimed.

Wall says the well plan could generate 1,200 jobs and speed up the decommissioning and reclamation of 1,000 non-producing wells
over the next two years.

The Alberta government and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour both said Monday that industry should cover the cleanup costs.

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Wall says infrastructure needs a boost, but so does the energy sector and he doesn’t know why there’s opposition to the idea.

“It’s naive to think that someone’s going to move from an oil service company crew to a heavy construction crew. It’s really naive to think that that’s going to happen in every case, so I think it’s fair to say that we need both,” Wall said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

“This initiative helps environmentally, it cleans up completed wells and orphaned wells, and it puts Saskatchewan people back to work.”

The premier says he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the idea and Trudeau is considering it.

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