Well abandonment includes removal of surface equipment, cutting off the well below the surface, plugging and capping it.
Once a well has been abandoned, the site proceeds through the stages of remediation and reclamation. Companies hire qualified environmental consultants to assess the presence or absence of any soil or groundwater contamination, and produce a report detailing how any contamination has been mitigated and confirming the site has been remediated in accordance with provincial requirements.
Reclamation means returning the land to a safe and productive condition as close as reasonable to its previous state. Reclamation includes:
- Contouring and erosion control: All disturbed surface areas including the well pad, road areas and pipeline flows must be re-contoured to blend with the original landform. Adequate erosion control will provide for site stability and generally is achieved by successful revegetation.
- Re-vegetation: The establishment of a self-sustaining native plant community is a benchmark of reclamation success, including the control of invasive plant species and noxious weeds.
- Detailed site assessment: Following reclamation, the landscape is evaluated to ensure no erosion or drainage issues, topsoil quality and quantity is confirmed, and the health of vegetation (i.e., plant density, height, productivity, diversity, etc.) is assessed.
Regulators must be satisfied that all requirements are met before the site is certified as reclaimed/restored. Regulators audit a certain percentage of sites that receive reclamation certificates to ensure reclamation and vegetation establishment.
For information on how the oil sands and tailings ponds are reclaimed, please visit Canada's Oil Sands.
Industry and regulators want to ensure that abandonment and reclamation liabilities are estimated appropriately and that adequate funding is in place to reclaim oil and gas sites at the end of their life.
The Alberta Energy Regulator, formerly the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, implemented changes to the Licensee Liability Rating (LLR) Program in 2013. The LLR program compares a licensee's assets with its liabilities, and requires companies to post security if liabilities exceed the licensee's assets. This program provides risk mitigation for remediation work should an operator be financially unable to meet its remediation liability obligation.
The Orphan Well Levy pays for the abandonment and reclamation of upstream oil and gas orphaned wells, facilities and pipelines. An orphan is a well, pipeline, facility or associated site which has been investigated and confirmed as not having any legally responsible or financially able party to deal with its abandonment and reclamation. The fund is paid for entirely by the industry.