Abandonment and Reclamation

Our industry manages wells safely through all stages – exploration, development, operation, abandonment and reclamation. Every company that explores for and develops Canada’s oil and natural gas resources is financially responsible for safely managing each well it drills, as well as any associated facilities.
When an oil or natural gas well is no longer productive, the operating company is required by regulation to remove equipment and reclaim the site.  

Well classifications include:
  • Reclamation – the process of replacing soil and re-establishing vegetation on a wellsite so it can support activities similar to those it could have supported before it was disturbed.
  • Abandoned – a site that is permanently dismantled (plugged, cut and capped) and left in a safe and secure condition.
  • Active – a well that is currently producing oil or natural gas.
  • Inactive – a well or associated facility where activities have stopped due to technical or economic reasons. Not all sites in this category are orphaned. Many may be reopened and produce again at a later date.
  • Suspended – a well that is not currently producing, has been safely secured, but may produce in the future.
  • Orphan – a well or facility confirmed not to have anyone responsible or able to deal with its closure and reclamation.
  • Reclamation Certified (Rec Cert) – well sites that are remediated and reclaimed to the regulatory standard of the day.
  • Remediation – the process of cleaning up a contaminated well site to meet specific soil and groundwater standards

Abandoned wells

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.
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.

Managing orphan wells

Abandoned, inactive and suspended wells have an identifiable owner, the licensee, and are financially managed by the licensee through to end-of-life activities. In Alberta, to protect against licensees whose businesses failed and are unable to cover the costs for abandonment and reclamation, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) collects an annual levy (the Orphan Well Levy) from all active oil and natural gas producers and remits these funds to the Orphan Well Association (OWA). The Orphan Well Levy is 100 per cent funded by industry.  The OWA, on behalf of industry, conducts testing to determine the work needed to abandon the well safely, and then oversees performance of this task.

For information on how the oil sands and tailings ponds are reclaimed, please visit Canada's Oil Sands.