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‘Ticking time bomb:’ Alberta group wants aging oil wells to be election issue

CALGARY — A coalition of Alberta landowners, researchers and former regulators says it could cost as much as $70 billion to clean up more than 300,000 orphan oil and gas wells in Alberta.

The Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project released the numbers Monday in Calgary.

“Fiscally and environmentally, this is a ticking time bomb,” lead researcher Regan Boychuk told a news conference.

“They sit idle and they may look harmless, but they’re not. All wells leak eventually and that’s why it’s so important they are plugged and reclaimed properly.”

Boychuk said it’s not too late to make well cleanup a campaign issue before the April 16 provincial election.

“This is the moment when politicians are the most receptive,” he said. “The day after the election is when politicians are the least receptive to public concern. That’s why we are making this data public today to try and influence this debate.”

He said most political parties are talking about boosting Alberta’s resource sector but not about the environmental costs involved.

“We can either spend money on drilling more wells or spend money on cleaning up.”

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Boychuk said about $200 million is being held by the Alberta government as a deposit to pay for the cleanup of unreclaimed wells. The problem gets worse once the additional costs of tailing ponds, mines and pipelines are included.

Shirley Dorin, 86, said she and her husband had decades of frustration after allowing an oil well to be drilled on their property near Didsbury in central Alberta in 1970.

There was constant flaring that lit up their house, she said, and she developed Parkinson’s disease.

Production equipment was eventually removed a few years ago but the site, which has had several owners, still remains.

“We didn’t know what it was like to have your life controlled by an oil company and we really didn’t know what we were in for, that’s for sure,” Dorin said.

“We want it gone.”

Her son, Mark, is president of Dorin Land and Oilfield Management, and is a member of the coalition.

“We can’t develop our land,” he said. “Albertans simply can’t afford to wait another four years for variable solutions as the mess continues to grow.”

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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