Explainer: Cleaning up dormant oil and gas wells in B.C.

A look at some issues dormant wells can cause and the provincial government’s solution

(Kristen Frier)

The province’s Dormant Sites Reclamation Program is now taking applications from British Columbian oil and gas companies looking to erase the environmental mark of dormant wells.

The second increment of $50 million in funding gives eligible organizations in the industry from Feb. 8 to March 8 to apply for funding that could go towards cleaning up and potentially reclaiming previously nominated dormant sites.

With the well sites nominated by Indigenous peoples, landowners, and local communities, eligible companies working on these projects can receive up to $100,000 of funding or half the estimated cost of the site being cleaned up, whichever amount is smaller.

There are 8,527 dormant well sites in B.C., writes a B.C. government news release, which is defined as “wells that have been inactive for five consecutive years and are unlikely to be returned to service.”

These oil and gas sites can contaminate soil, cause invasive weed growth, and lead to possible leaks that endanger the environment and anybody living nearby, reported The Narwhal last year. Farmers also report not being able to grow anything close to the wells, or having decreased crop production.

However, restoring and reclaiming abandoned, orphaned, or dormant sites is a lengthy, multi-step process and can take years to complete, reports the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission webpage.

First, wells must be deactivated and decommissioned, which involves purging the lines, draining the equipment, then permanently plugging and capping the well’s hole. The site then must be decommissioned, where the equipment is removed and either salvaged or disposed of.

The site’s soil and groundwater are investigated for contaminants caused by the well, which are then removed in the “remediation” process. And finally, the site is to be returned to how it was before the well was installed: with “surface reclamation to replace soils and vegetation”.

Clean-up projects must plan to complete at least one of the processes mentioned above to be considered for funding.

The applicants with well projects will be scored and prioritized based on “Indigenous participation, environmental liability, and community priorities,” reads the B.C. government website. Some of the many other attributes that will also be considered is if sites are on Indigenous treaty or reserve land, are within a kilometre of a stream, or if the site is on private land.

The first $50 million supported about 1,000 jobs for local workers, reported a B.C. government news release. Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation expects the second round of funding to continue to be a “win-win” for the province’s economy and environment.

The CBC reported that reclamation activities were done at nearly 1,900 well sites with the first increment of funding. Ralston said he is expecting a similar amount of jobs for the second round, with priority going to local and Indigenous workers.

For more details on eligibility requirements and how the nominated well sites will be analyzed, visit the information page on the second increment of $50 million.