Adventure coordinator Tako Koning recounts a field trip to see orphan gas wells in southwestern Alberta:

The group consisted of 14 participants and as we drove towards the bird blind at Frank Lake, five km east of High River, we saw over 200 beautiful white pelicans resting on a small island near the western edge of the lake. So, this was an excellent start to our field trip. Encouraging also was that the weather was excellent with just a touch of autumn in the air.

After visiting Frank Lake and photographing the pelicans as well as numerous water fowl and shore birds, we drove a couple of miles northwards and stopped at a sign indicating the presence of a nearby gas well which was “left behind” when the oil company went bankrupt. This well is an “orphan” gas well which has been left in a suspended state for 15 years and needs to be properly abandoned and the well site environmentally remediated. The Orphan Well Association, funded by the oil industry and Alberta government (thus we the taxpayers) will need to cover those costs. About 1,500 such orphan wells occur in the area from Vulcan to Frank Lake and down to the southern Porcupine Hills.

We then stopped along the road near the large, 35-year-old Mazeppa Gas Processing Plant which was also abandoned by the same oil company and needs to be dismantled and the site environmentally brought back to its original state. The cost of this will be many millions of dollars. One cannot but wonder how many more such abandoned facilities exist in Alberta. A lively discussion took place about this huge problem. We were fortunate to have a diverse group of attendees such as an engineer, accountant, lawyer, greenfield horticulturist, corporate business consultant, geophysicist and myself being a petroleum geologist engaged in the discussions.

We then proceeded southwards to Stavely and then westwards to the Willow Creek Reservoir which is an important source of water for that area for irrigation as well as sports fishing. The small and beautiful Willow Creek Municipal Park was our lunch stop. Further westwards we visited another orphan gas well and then drove into the Porcupine Hills to enjoy stunning views at the crest of those hills and discuss the underlying geology. The trip ended in Longview where we stopped at a producing oil well located smack dab in the middle of the town. The participants were reminded that eventually that well and other producing oil wells in that area, when they stop producing oil, will need to be properly abandoned by the oil company, the well sites remediated, and all oil producing infrastructure removed. This will need to be done by the oil company and not by we tax payers.

This field trip taught the attendees that Alberta and all of Canada has much benefitted from the oil industry in terms of jobs, royalties, and tax revenues and has provided enormous funds for the building of highways, roads, schools, hospitals, universities, etc., but that there are also significant environmental issues which must be addressed.

– Tako Koning