PRRD declines request to nominate 1,400 dormant wells for cleanup

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Tom Summer Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News
The Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) supports the creation of original civic journalism. Tom Summer works under the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John. The content that is produced will be made available to media organizations through a Creative Commons license so that Canadians can be better informed.

The Peace River Regional District is being asked to nominate more than 1,400 wells for priority cleanup as part of a new $100-million reclamation program launched this year.

Canadian Natural Resources submitted a 26-page list of wells to the PRRD, and said its endorsement could “maximize” provincial spending and create more jobs.

Regional district directors say they’re unconvinced Canadian Natural will support Northeast BC, and claims the company has a history of hiring outsiders over local contractors.

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A motion passed September 10 asking the company appear as a delegation to make assurances that any dormant well related employment opportunities will use local service companies. 

“Their activities are starting to come to roost here, and then they’re looking for support while they don’t give any support. Perhaps it’s time to engage with them and let them know that we’re not interested at this time to put any of these wells forward because of their history,” said Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser.  

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead echoed Fraser’s comments, noting he had a call from Minister Bruce Ralston last month, asking to keep tabs on the program.

“This money is intended to create economic opportunities for Northeast BC, within the North for exactly that purpose,” said Bumstead.

Director Dan Rose says it makes little sense to pay the company for wells they’re already legally obligated to clean up.

“I think if you were to do an investigation into the social licence around CNRL, they’re not a real good community based organization company,” said Rose. “To be clear, I believe the program was created for orphan sites not under the control of any companies.”

The first phase of funding was significantly oversubscribed by industry, with the majority of dormant wells not receiving any funding, CNRL Senior Vice President Bill Peterson wrote in a letter received Sept. 1.

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“By nominating Canadian Natural wells, the Regional District will be helping create more jobs while also abandoning and reclaiming a high number of wells within the allocated funding.”

The deadline for nominations is Sept. 30. 

The PRRD board declined to identify and nominate wells in June, saying it had neither the in-house expertise, time, nor money to do the work itself. Directors have requested quarterly updates on reclamation works from the BC Oil and Gas Commission instead.

The $100-million Dormant Sites Reclamation Program was announced in April, and split into two phases of $50 million.

The first phase was significantly oversubscribed, with $152 million of work proposed for 2,400 inactive wells.

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Nominated sites from local governments, landowners, and First Nation communities are to be given priority consideration for the second round of funding.

CNRL’s long list include well sites in and around Fort St. John, Buick, Prespatou, Cecil Lake, Montney, Stoddart Creek, Inga, and up to Tommy Lakes and Buckinghorse. 

Peterson noted nomination doesn’t guarantee funding, but said CNRL will match government funding “dollar for dollar, doubling the potential total spend on abandonment and reclamation.” 

He said CNRL uses an “area based closure” program that increases the number of wells closed, and the number of jobs for workers.

“These ABC programs ensure that wells are abandoned and reclaimed in a manner that addresses wells within a program area, as opposed to inefficiently abandoning and reclaiming wells in a scattershot manner across a large number of geographic areas,” Peterson wrote.

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“In addition, we are committed to prioritizing wells in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas as well as using local contractors to maximize local job creation.”

The province estimates the cleanup program will create 1,200 jobs.

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca

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