Alberta’s inactive wells could fill a hole 40,000 CN Towers deep.
16×9 calculated there are approximately 22 million metres of inactive well infrastructure buried in Alberta. That’s nearly enough to stretch all the way to the other side of the Earth and back.
READ MORE: When the oil stops: 16×9 takes a closer look at old wells in Canada
Some of it will be cleaned up and removed, but most will remain in the ground forever. According to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), abandoned pipelines stay underground, unless they pose a safety or environmental risk.
— Graphic illustration by Kevin Salvatierra, Global News
Depending on the site, the environmental risk can be hard to determine. Barry Robinson, a lawyer with EcoJustice says the longer these well sites sit, the higher the risk of contamination.
“It’s not a matter of just quietly covering up with topsoil and growing some grass and saying reclaimed you also have to know what’s underneath and has there been anything spilled or buried underneath this well site that could be contaminating the soil or contaminating the water?”
Pat Payne, manager of the Orphan Well Association has cleaned up hundreds of sites. She says while clean ups normally remove up to 3 meters of contaminated soil, each site is unique. How much soil is removed or how deep the clean-up will go varies depending on the history of the well. “Sites are different…the history associated with them will impact how much work is required to address them.” That work, shared by Payne and the oil and gas industry will have clean-up crews digging for years to come.
SOURCE: ST 37, Alberta Energy Regulator (September 2015 data, based on wells with Abandoned and Suspended license status)