When a well, pipeline, facility or associated site no longer has a legally or financially responsible party that can be held accountable, it is known as an orphan and becomes the responsibility of the OWA to safely decommission and restore the land as close to its original state as possible. The OWA hires contractors to perform this work, choosing companies that are experienced, with excellent safety records. We strictly adhere to Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) regulations and requirements.
There are situations in which the defunct operator of record – the company that appears on the site signage – has viable partners that hold some working interest in the well, pipeline or facility. In these cases, these working interest partners (WIPs) become the legally or financially responsible party for managing the decommissioning and reclamation work and can then apply to the OWA to recover a portion of their costs. These locations are not considered orphans.
Not all inactive well sites and facilities are orphan sites under the provincial regulation that governs the OWA. Sites may be currently inactive, but are operated or owned, in whole or in part by a solvent company, or may be under the custody of a court-appointed receiver to be sold. Only those wellsites and facilities that have no financially responsible partners or receivers are formally designated as orphans by the AER. Once this designation is determined, there are several steps for the OWA to decommission and reclaim an orphan site.
Process to Decommission and Reclaim an Orphan Well
Step 1: A landowner or registered occupant receives an information package from an OWA representative indicating there is a well or facility on their property that has been assigned to the OWA for decommissioning and/or reclamation. The information package includes information about the OWA, the orphan site, a landowner feedback form and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Step 2: If surface access payments are outstanding, the landowner can apply to the Surface Rights Board to receive these payments. While processing can take some time, the payments will continue until the site receives a reclamation certificate. The OWA cannot provide surface lease payments to landowners.
Step 3: An OWA representative calls to review the information package with the landowner/occupant within approximately a month after information packages are mailed out.
Step 4: The OWA will schedule a site inspection to assess the condition and safety of the site. Inspections generally occur within one year of the site being assigned to the OWA, given current inventory levels.
Step 5: The OWA may schedule site maintenance and surface clean-up to remove potential safety hazards. Nuisance issues, such as weeds, are not typically addressed until the reclamation stage.
Step 6: Sometimes referred to as abandonment or decommissioning, the well is permanently plugged and cut off below ground, so eventually the land can be safely cultivated, reforested, or otherwise returned to its previous state. Equipment is removed, and pipelines are purged and decommissioned.
Step 7: Reclamation begins when an OWA representative assesses the site through desktop information reviews and field work. Any contamination is cleaned up through remediation activities.
Step 8: Any gravel is removed, the site is recontoured, topsoil replaced, and the lease and access road are returned to the same land use as the surrounding area (e.g. cultivated, pasture, forest, etc.). Landowners may request that certain infrastructure be left in place, if desired, including access road or roadway approaches.
Step 9: Ultimately, the OWA applies for a reclamation certificate from the AER. Once received, the land can be used as it was before the infrastructure was there.
For more information on remediation and reclamation, visit our Reclamation Page.