Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned

Greg Latimer’s ranch near Sounding Lake, Alberta, has 4,000 acres, 350 cattle — and more than a dozen idle or abandoned oil and gas wells.

Latimer, who took over the family ranch in the southeastern part of the oil-rich province in 2011, worries about leaks contaminating the groundwater and soil. He believes his cows have fallen ill after drinking from puddles near the wells. He and his partner, Marva Coltman, get headaches from the odors that some of them emit.

Neither Latimer, his father nor his grandfather were given a choice about whether to let oil and gas companies onto their property.

…“My grandfather came here in 1911 in the middle of the country to make a homestead,” Latimer said. “These guys came here and destroyed it. It isn’t fair.”

…[The] government slashed municipal property taxes on shallow gas wells last year by 35 percent. Some operators have stopped paying municipal property taxes to the tune of $129.8 million.

Under provincial law, oil and gas companies are responsible for plugging defunct wells and restoring the environment to its pre-drilling state. When the operators are bankrupt or insolvent, the wells are transferred to the industry-funded Orphan Well Association, which is tasked with decommissioning them.

As the energy sector has struggled, the association’s inventory has ballooned, from 162 wells in 2014 to 3,406 today.

…And the number could skyrocket, soon. Last year, both Trident Exploration and Houston Oil & Gas bit the dust, leaving behind a combined 6,100 wells and a $307.9 million cleanup bill. 

…As of December 2019, the energy regulator had $170.3 million to clean up potential oil and gas liabilities estimated at more than $22.5 billion, the figures show.

Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned – The Washington Post

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