Public meeting on abandoned gas wells sees calls for action from government

·3 min read
A public meeting was held in Leamington, Ont., to share information surrounding old gas wells that are found throughout southwestern Ontario. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)
A public meeting was held in Leamington, Ont., to share information surrounding old gas wells that are found throughout southwestern Ontario. (Dale Molnar/CBC - image credit)

The purpose of a public meeting on abandoned and orphaned gas wells was to share information, but there were also calls for upper levels of government to help deal with the thousands of wells that might pose a threat.

The meeting, held Thursday night in Leamington, was hosted by Chatham-Kent—Leamington MP Dave Epp.

"Certainly, more can be done," Epp said. "I think everyone can agree that more can and probably should be done. Now the question is, we need to call on both levels of government to work together to address this issue."

Epp called on residents to sign a petition created that asks on the province and the federal government to develop and fund an orphan well program.

Abandoned wells are wells that have been properly decommissioned and their locations are documented. The location and safety of orphaned wells is a mystery.

"There's 27,000 wells that are known in Southwestern Ontario. It's an estimated another 6,000 we don't know exactly where they are," Epp said.

The meeting was held on the night before the one-year anniversary of the explosion in Wheatley. That explosion, suspected to be caused by a leaking abandoned well, was one of the catalysts for the event.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Residents heard from experts about what the wells are and the potential risks. They also received information about what to watch out for.

People who hold the license for oil and gas wells, lease or operate them, are responsible for plugging them, but if they cannot be found, the responsibility falls to whoever owns the property, explained Jennifer Barton, the assistant deputy minister of the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

She said that most wells don't pose a risk to health and safety.

The provincial government does have a program to provide financial assistance for plugging wells that are considered a risk to the public, she said.

Howard Gabert is on the Wheatley task force dealing with the aftermath of last year's explosion. He said work to address the wells should be a provincial responsibility.

"I think that's extremely unfair that that policy exists that is imposing, you know, the remediation effort of a petroleum wells back on unsuspected land owners," he said.

The province is asking landowners to report any smells or tell-tale signs of leaking wells.

One meeting attendee, Gary Koestler of Kingsville, said he's concerned that residents might he hesitant to declare a potential leak if they know they would then be responsible for clean up costs.

"It wasn't real clear who's on the hook other than it's the land owner's responsibility," he said. "We heard that the government's there to help and they want to report it, but there's not a strong commitment that the government is going to help with the costs associated with the dealing with this danger."

Program launched for Western Canada

Two years ago, the federal government announced $1.7 billion for remediation of orphaned and abandoned wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

The Ontario Petroleum Institute made applications to the provincial and federal governments for a similar program to be launched for this province, and provincial government then wrote to Ottawa, according to Epp.

Epp said there hasn't been a response, to his knowledge.

CBC News is seeking comment from the federal natural resources ministry.