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Well cleanup in the cards after Alberta energy company announces plans

Orphaned Wells Exhibit
Jan. 5, 2019: A unique art display at an Edmonton gallery is examining the number of orphan oil wells in Alberta. Julia Wong reports.

Cleaning up and reclaiming thousands of abandoned oil wells has gained traction. Calgary-based Cenovus Energy set new sustainability targets on Thursday, while behind-the-scenes talks continue at the political level.

Cenovus set targets to reclaim 1,500 abandoned wells by 2030.

READ MORE: Calgary-based oilsands producer Cenovus aims for ‘net zero’ GHG emissions by 2050

“Our environmental practices, low-emissions oilsands operations and the relationships we’ve built with residents in areas where we operate – including Indigenous communities – demonstrate our commitment to sustainability leadership,” said Alex Pourbaix, president and chief executive officer, in a news release.

Cenovus has identified four areas of “environmental, social and governance” work, with targets to be met a decade from now.

They include reducing the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent, while holding absolute emissions flat, increasing spending with Indigenous businesses by $1.5 billion, plus other goals to improve land, wildlife and water stewardship.

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READ MORE: Alberta landowners taking Foothills County to court over removal of signs on private property

The company also announced it is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Cenovus’ Reg Curren told Global News the intention is to get there though improved technology.

“Obviously there are many technologies that are coming that we don’t yet see as being commercial. However over that period of time, we believe they provide the pathway to achieving that aspiration.”

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Carbon capture and storage, and the use of solvents in their Steam Assisted Gravity drainage sites are ways to reduce emissions and the use of water.

Alberta oil well service company looks to make a go of it despite sluggish energy report
Alberta oil well service company looks to make a go of it despite sluggish energy report

Edmonton-Riverbend MP Matt Jeneroux first raised a motion for well reclamation in 2017, wanting the feds and the province to work together.

“I believe it was part of the meetings that Minister Freeland and Premier Kenney had,” he told Global News. “There’s general consensus that something needs to be done from a liability standpoint, but certainly from a taxpayer liability standpoint as well.

“It’s good to see the companies like Cenovus are making these steps.”

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READ MORE: ‘Ticking time bomb:’ Alberta group wants aging oil wells to be election issue

“The numbers seem to be all over the map, but we’ve heard there (were) about 83,000 wells at the time in the province that were either inactive or abandoned. I heard it was in the hundreds of billions of dollars to get these wells cleaned up.”

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No government money is involved in the Cenovus plan, Curren said.

“We budget for it on an annual basis. We’ve developed an internal expertise that allows us to do this in a very efficient way.”

LISTEN: Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix joins Danielle Smith to discuss his company’s emissions goals

Other behind-the-scenes discussions have been going on, based on what Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs published on Twitter Thursday.

“Incentivising private sector to invest in orphan well cleanup is a no brainer win-win-win for everyone. Helps workers get back to work, helps address long term environment risks. I brought this up when I met with @SeamusORegan in December.”