FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – In an update Tuesday, the BC Oil and Gas Commission says it has decommissioned over half of the province’s 770 orphan well sites.

Between April 2020 to March 2021, the Commission expects around 100 decommissioned wells, over 90 equipment sites will be decommissioned, more than 50 sites will be remediated, and at least 50 sites will be fully reclaimed. The decommissioning progress will allow the Commission to hone in on completing restoration work on orphan sites.

“The Orphan Sites Supplemental Reclamation Program benefits both our economy and environment, providing jobs for local workers and reducing the impacts of oil and gas development in the Northeast,” said Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, Bruce Ralston.

Funding for orphan site restoration came from $30 million collected from levies on oil and gas operators and $15 million from the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package.

Qualified service providers are based in northeast B.C as the Commission aims to support communities where the majority of energy development occurs.

Orphan sites were nominated in 2020 through an online survey created by the Commission. Out of 80 nominated sites, two were nominated by local governments, seven by landowners, and 71 nominated by Indigenous communities.

“This is an important step in ensuring those directly affected by orphan wells have a say in their restoration”, said BC Oil and Gas Commissioner & CEO, Paul Jeakins. “Working in partnership with local governments, landowners, and Indigenous communities will result in meaningful reclamation on the land.”

There are currently seven Indigenous-owned contractors doing restoration work on orphan sites through existing programs and another two local service providers that have agreements with Indigenous communities.

Well decommissioning refers to the permanent plugging of a well and removing the wellhead, while site decommissioning means any surface equipment has been removed from the site.

Reclamation is the replacement of soils and revegetation, which after monitoring, has met all necessary requirements and is eligible for a Certificate of Restoration. Following reclamation, a Certificate of Restoration can take up to several years to achieve.