‘Abandoned’ well sites in northeastern B.C. cause concerns

Photo by Unedited Media, Flickr Creative CommonsPhoto by Unedited Media, Flickr Creative Commons

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Concerns have been raised by the David Suzuki Foundation about pipes, wellheads, and even entire buildings left abandoned in the Peace Region’s backcountry, in what they’re saying is the result of oil and gas developments.

According to the Canadian Press via the Vancouver Sun, Science adviser John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation came here in August to assess older well-sites, and ‘very, very few of all the wells’ were what they consider ‘properly restored.’

“Wellheads had been removed but all the casings were there,” said Werring.

“The ponds to collect process water were still on site. There were pumpjacks — entire pumpjacks — left in the field and had been there for 30 or 40 years.”

The trip last summer was to assess how industry was cleaning up after itself. A team spent 10 days assessing 35 sites and covering 4,000 kilometres over that time period.

According to information from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the sites had been dormant for an average of 14 years — but, the times reported vary from just months all the way up to 41 years.

The OGC lists the sites as either abandoned or suspended. There are about 10,000 wells in British Columbia that are considered such.

Out of their findings, Werring reported that only two of the sites appeared to be taken care of and cleaned up at all — which ends up being less than six per cent of the sites. Six of the sites had released of hydrogen sulphide gas, which researchers discovered the presence of either through its strong smell or through readings on gas monitors. One of the gas plants appeared to have been left entirely intact.

OGC spokesperson Alan Clay told the Canadian Press in an e-mailed statement that ‘some of the wells the group visited weren’t dormant, but were actually still producing.’

Clay wrote that, “remediation is ongoing and the responsible party is working to address the residual environmental concerns.”

The province’s regulations require operators to reclaim sites before they are designated abandoned or suspended. But, as noted by Werring, the regulator may waive those requirements if they are judged not ‘reasonably practicable.’

The Commission has also clarified up its own rules; it broadened the definition of what equipment must be removed from dormant well sites in September 2015.