Federal budget 2016: Oil well cleanup proponents left empty-handed

CALGARY — Disappointment was the word of the day for those who had pushed for federal funding to help clean up the backlog of inactive oil wells that dot the Prairies.

Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan had asked for $156 million from the federal government to accelerate the cleanup of abandoned and dormant wells but was left empty-handed in Ottawa’s budget statement Tuesday.

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

Commenting in Regina after the budget was released, Wall described the lack of funding as a disappointment because the proposed program, while imperfect, would have provided jobs for unemployed energy workers.

Meanwhile, Alberta party leader Greg Clark described it as a missed opportunity to put people back to work and help clean up the environment at the same time.

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Clark has been pushing especially for funding to clean up orphaned wells, where the company that owns the well can’t be found or has gone bankrupt.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a serious situation that’s coming’: Alberta landowners’ advocate on ‘mushrooming’ problem of abandoned oil wells

Since oil was first discovered in Alberta more than 100 years ago, more than 400,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and licence status counts indicate nearly 170,000 of them are inactive.

A well is considered inactive after it hasn’t produced anything for 12 months. At that point, provincial rules require companies to either suspend or safely turn off the well and a company can choose to abandon it by taking steps to prevent any leakage. The company is then also required to restore the land impacted by the well.

READ MORE: ‘It will provide some jobs’: Alberta energy minister keen on well cleanup plan

Mark Salkeld, head of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, had asked for funding to speed up the decommissioning of wells that still have owners, and said he’ll continue to push the provincial and federal governments for support.

READ MORE: Map: Alberta littered with inactive oil and gas wells


With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News


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