Thousands of dormant wells dot the British Columbia landscape, and new rules have some in the province worrying that oil and gas companies will delay their cleanup.
On October 21, the British Columbia legislature voted to remove a clause from an existing law that sets deadlines for cleaning and restoring dormant wells. The move means that the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC), a Crown corporation created in the late 1990s, will have the power to exempt “permit holders from the requirements of the Idle and Closure Regulation. in circumstances that warrant it “.
Almost all MLAs voted to remove Clause 32, which affected the Oil and Gas Activities Act in Bill 21, also known as the Miscellaneous Bylaws Amendment Act (No. 2). Those in favor of its removal said it will allow room for maneuver for companies trying to decommission wells but face challenges beyond their control.
Giving more power to the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission and taking it away from the elected government is concerning, said Sven Biggs, director of Stand.earth’s Canadian oil and gas program.
He notes that the commission’s chairman, Fazil Mihlar, was responsible for creating Christy Clark’s LNG strategy while he was deputy minister for Climate Leadership. Mihlar is also the former director of the right-wing think tank Fraser Institute, and once tweeted that environmental groups should “stop their hysteria” over the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“Oil and gas is the only industry in the province that has this kind of special relationship where regulations can be changed and away from elected government officials,” he said.
“… They have this kind of one-stop shop for the oil and gas commission to get all the permits for everything. And this expands those powers a bit more. “
More recent numbers The British Columbia government set oil and gas well sites in the province at 25,000, with 8,527 inactive, meaning they are still owned and supervised by the company that initially drilled them, but they have been inactive for five or more years and is not expected to operate again. Most of the wells are on Crown land, as well as on indigenous territory.
Around 770 are considered orphans and have no company or party linked to them, nor their dismantling.
Both pose serious environmental risks, which according to a McGill study earlier this year are not being adequately reported by the federal government. The researchers said annual methane emissions from abandoned wells, which seep into the air and groundwater, could be underestimated by 150% in Canada. There are abandoned wells across the country, such as in Alberta, where more than half of the province’s wells are no longer producing oil and gas.
“The potential amount of methane that has leaked out of the facility could have a huge impact on the climate, and I think there’s really no one looking at the store there,” Biggs said.
The move means that the BC Oil and Gas Commission, a Crown corporation created in the late 1990s, will have the power to exempt “permit holders from the idle and shutdown Regulation requirements in circumstances that deserve it “. #Oil #Gas #BCpoli
“And this change has just confirmed that it will continue indefinitely.”
Initial deadlines for cleaning idle wells were first advanced in 2018, explained BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, who voted against the change along with Green MLA Adam Olsen. The dates differ according to the age of the well, but the closures of the oldest wells were due to take place in December. He said it was disappointing to see the measure pass, as its original intention was to ensure a clear timeline and expectations for oil and gas companies.
“The decision of this NDP government to massively subsidize the LNG Canada project is going to see a big pickup in drilling in northeast British Columbia and in fracking,” he said.
“Any relaxation of regulations at a time when you are going to see a potential increase in activity is a worrying combination.”
In a statement to National Observer of Canada, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said it was the first to set expiration dates and that eliminating them is part of its goal of allowing the “safe and necessary restoration of inactive wells.”
“The original amendments did not give the BCOGC much-needed authority to address technical issues, minimize unnecessary surface disturbances and improve efficiency,” the statement read.
“Giving the BCOGC the flexibility to adjust timelines on the rare occasions when it is justified allows them to properly manage the restoration of inactive wells and ensure that work is done safely and properly.”
For Furstenau, the law change is a loophole for fossil fuel companies that have not been held accountable by the BC Oil and Gas Commission in the past. He said that while Ottawa’s commitment of $ 120 million to clean the wells is a good environmental measure; Combines with the recent law change to send a strong message: It is not the oil and gas companies that are responsible for finishing what they started.
“At a time when we are in a climate emergency, and we are seeing very little indication from this government that that is a concern to them, this is the legislation that we get,” he said.
“… What I would rather see is: if you are going to extract this resource and drill, then you will put the deposit for cleanup costs up front.”