Orphan Wells and Weed Control

Who’s in charge anyway?

During the regular meeting of the ASBPC on January 14, the Committee was pleased to host a delegation from the Orphan Well Association (OWA) to discuss their Vegetation Management Policy Version 1.03. The Committee was joined by Lars De Pauw, the Executive Director with the Orphan Well Association, and Dave Marks Team Lead for Land, Stakeholder Relations.

The OWA is an independent, non-profit organization that operates under the delegated legal authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The AER is the single regulator of energy in Alberta and is responsible for regulating the entire life cycle of oil, oil sands, natural gas, and coal projects in Alberta. More about the AER can be found on their website.

Lars opened by explaining that only wells, pipelines, facilities or associated site that have no legally responsible or financially viable party to deal with the decommissioning and reclamation responsibilities are designated as orphans by the AER. There are situations where the company that appears on the signage at the site could be defunct, but still have viable partners that hold working interest in the site. These sites cannot be designated as orphans and will not come under the management of the OWA. Sites that have been given over to the OWA for decommissioning and reclamation will be given an OWA sign, the landowner will be contacted and will be added to the Orphan Inventory Lists found on their website. Landowners can contact the AER to confirm who is responsible for the site if the site isn’t an orphan (libalitymangement@aer.ca).

Lars then went on to say that as per the OWA’s Vegetation Management Policy, the OWA will not control weeds until a site has been decommissioned unless “failure to do so will significantly impact our pending reclamation program”. The decommissioning stage is expected to take about a year, after which the reclamation stage begins and OWA will be managing the weed control for the site as part of the reclamation work. When questioned further by the Committee Lars stated that the policy was reviewed by the Farmers Advocate office and the Surface Rights board and they were confident that it is well written and within the law.

The Committee was disappointed with this response and will continue to research who is legally responsible to provide weed control during the decommissioning stage. A motion was passed to follow up with the Alberta Energy Regulator to determine where notices should be sent if a neglected site is not eligible to OWA or during the decommissioning stage.

Stats and tid bits

The Surface Rights Board assists landowners and operators in recovering lost lease rental and vegetation control compensation. Landowners receiving compensation through the Surface Rights Board may be receiving funds for managing weeds. It is recommended to keep detailed records.

There are currently 2852 orphan sites for decommissioning. To contrast, the OWA had 14 decommissioning sites in 2014.

In response to the high number of orphan wells the Province announced a new Liability Management Framework that will provide further mechanism for the AER to expedite reclamation efforts. A video and summary about the framework can be found on the Alberta Energy Regulator website.

Under the the New Liability Management Framework, Landowners can nominate sites for closure and the AER can introduce mandatory spend targets that would require companies to complete closure and reclamation of sites in a timely manor.

The Site Rehabilitation Program is a program where eligible companies can apply for funding to complete abandonment and reclamation work. The program is funded by the Government of Canada and administered by the Province of Alberta. The OWA is not eligible to apply for any grants under the program.