Study says easing rules on transfer of unreclaimed oil wells could speed cleanup

Alberta should lower regulatory barriers that discourage businesses from reusing abandoned and unreclaimed oil and gas well sites, says a report from the Canada West Foundation and the Energy Futures Lab.

Making it easier to convert an old well site into anything from a geothermal plant to a municipal park would speed site restoration and help ease the burden of unfunded cleanup costs in the energy sector, said co-author Juli Rohl of Energy Futures, a think-tank on Alberta’s role in energy transition.

“We think these wells should be cleaned up, where possible. But where that either isn’t going to happen or where there is a viable new life for them, that should be considered.”

Rohl’s paper suggests at least some of those sites could be reused, more or less as is. Some could generate geothermal power. Others could provide now-valuable minerals such as lithium. Others could house small solar farms.

A few companies in Alberta have repurposed old energy sites for geothermal and solar projects. Allowing more such activity could create jobs and diversify the economy, improve the energy sector’s outlook and keep new industry off undeveloped land.

The report suggests a company should be allowed to defer its cleanup responsibilities and transfer them to a new operator.

“This would allow transfer of the remaining surface infrastructure and reclamation liability to the repurposer,” it says.

Rohl acknowledges only about 10 per cent of orphan wells are suitable for geothermal or solar development. Greenhouses or even municipal parks could be considered.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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