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Alberta’s long history of energy development has helped create many traditions, businesses, and legacies. One of the unfortunate legacies is the thousands of inactive energy structures, in varying states of upkeep and scattered across our province. These structures are collectively known as “aging infrastructure.”

Pump jacks that aren’t pumping, pipelines that aren’t transporting oil or gas, mines that are no longer operating, and gas wells that are closed off are all examples of aging infrastructure. They’re no longer in use, and there’s a chance these structures could negatively impact the environment if they are not properly decommissioned.

In recent years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to find a solution.

What We’re Doing About It

We have requirements in place to help reduce the number of unused wells, pipelines, facilities, and mines. We also have a number of programs to encourage companies to return their sites to their original (or similar) states.

However, the issue is more complex than what it seems. Under Government of Alberta policies, companies are not required to completely close down their sites and infrastructure. This is because they might choose to use them again in the future.

In the meantime, our rules and requirements protect the public’s safety and the environment while the equipment isn’t operating.

Who Foots the Bill?

Who’s responsible for cleaning up oil and gas sites? The answer should be simple: the companies that own them. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. One thing is certain: Albertans shouldn’t be left to pick up the tab.

In Alberta, a number of liability management programs help ensure that companies are held responsible for the sites they own and operate—specifically, for the costs of decommissioning inactive sites and returning the land to a natural state. Our Licensee Liability Rating program is one of these programs: if a company’s liabilities are greater than its assets, it must pay us a security fee to cover all decommissioning and reclamation costs.

If a company goes bankrupt and cannot pay to decommission (“abandon”) and reclaim their oil and gas sites, these sites are considered orphans and fall under the care of the Orphan Well Association.

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