‘Little to do with COVID:’ Landowners, law experts criticize well cleanup bill

‘Little to do with COVID:’ Landowners, law experts criticize well cleanup bill

‘Little to do with COVID:’ Landowners, law experts criticize well cleanup bill

EDMONTON — Landowners and legal experts say Alberta’s hastily passed bill to help clean up the province’s huge stockpile of abandoned energy facilities harms property rights without addressing why the problem exists in the first place.

They say the United Conservative government, which passed the bill in three days in an emergency session last week — despite the fact the problem is decades old, is using the COVID-19 crisis to make legislation without consulting the people it affects.

“This has very little to do with COVID,” said Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, a watchdog group of landowners and policy analysts.

“It wasn’t possible for landowner or opposition politicians to digest or analyze, let alone meaningfully respond, in three days. One has to assume that was the objective.”

Nigel Bankes, a professor of resource law at the University of Calgary, also criticized how quickly the bill became law.

“This was rammed through in a most inappropriate way,” he said.

Alberta Energy spokesman Kavi Bal said the approach was needed in anticipation of even more bankruptcies in the oilpatch caused by a combination of the global pandemic and the recent collapse in oil prices.

“It is unfortunate that some have taken relief measures brought forward in order to keep people employed and politicized them in a time of crisis,” he said in an email.

The bill’s purpose is to help the province deal with more than 10,000 wells, well sites, pipeline segments and other facilities that haven’t been cleaned up by Alberta’s energy industry. The problem dates back decades, but has accelerated in recent years due to low oil prices.

The bill gives the group responsible for abandoned sites new powers.

The Orphan Well Association will be able to enter private property to do reclamation work. It will also be able to take over abandoned wells and operate them.

Bankes said some of those powers “fill a number of holes” in previous bills.

The association can now oversee land reclamation in addition to well clean-up, he said. Allowing it to operate facilties may be a public safety benefit in the case of, for example, toxic sour gas wells.

The bill also requires operators to take steps to prevent facilities from damage.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Bankes said.

But the bill still contains no timelines for companies to clean things up, as is common in other jurisdictions, said Bankes. It also doesn’t do enough ensure companies have enough money to repair the damage they’ve done.

“We should actually be requiring wells that aren’t in production for a long period of time to be properly abandoned and the well site reclaimed,” he said.

“We’re not being proactive enough to demand security up front to cover liabilities.”

Dwight Popowich, who owns land in southern Alberta with energy facilities on it, said giving government officials more power to enter his property erodes his rights. He said allowing the Orphan Well Association to operate wells without making lease payments to landowners isn’t right.

“It’s not a lease any more, it’s forced expropriation.”

Boychuk said the bill also politicizes well clean-up by giving cabinet discretion over priorities. He also warns the bill will cost municipalities millions in unpaid property taxes when they are written off in bankruptcy.

Bal said the bill is one part of an overall package on the energy industry.

“This legislation is about protecting existing jobs and setting the stage for job creation during a time when it’s needed the most,” he wrote. “(It’s) part of larger package that includes a full suite of policies to address the issue of orphaned and abandoned wells.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
‘We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man’:Kenney faces internal call to quit

Senior backbench member Todd Loewen, in a letter posted on Facebook, called on Kenney to resign

Alberta continues to wrestle with high COVID-19 case numbers. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer up to 858 active cases of COVID-19

Province reports additional 1,799 cases of the virus

ALERT seized drugs and a variety of guns from a home in Lacombe on May 5 after an investigation. (Photo courtesy of ALERT)
Guns and drugs seized in Lacombe

Lacombe Police Service and ALERT worked together in a joint investigation

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Online images show RCMP members, vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta justice minister sorry for saying feds, others rooting for COVID disaster

Earlier Tuesday, prior to Madu’s apology, Trudeau rejected the accusations

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT

Most Read