Wells are abandoned because they are no longer needed to support oil and gas development or because an operator’s mineral lease has expired.
After many decades of energy development, abandoned wells are common in Alberta. As of June 2013, approximately 151 000 abandoned wells exist in Alberta, representing 35 per cent of all wells in the province.
Under Directive 020: Well Abandonment, the AER has set strict requirements for environmental protection and public safety in areas around abandoned wells.
Before a well is abandoned, the licensee must inform all affected landowners about the proposed abandonment. Licensees are also required to test the well to ensure that it will not pose any risk to the environment or the public once abandoned. If any issues are found during the testing phase, the licensee must make all necessary modifications according to AER requirements.
Abandoning Oil and Gas Wells
To ensure the safe and effective abandonment of oil and gas wells, all operators must follow the process defined by the AER:
Abandoned Wells and Potential Risks
Given the strict requirements imposed on licensees, the AER does not anticipate any issues living or working near an abandoned well.
While abandoned wells do not place the environment or public at significant risk, small leaks are possible. A well leak can be caused by many things, including corrosion, improper abandonment, and damage incurred during excavation.
If an abandoned well begins to leak, the licensee must notify the AER immediately. An application must be submitted to the AER and approval given before the licensee can re-enter the abandoned well to repair the leak.
Gas detection tests are used to identify any leaks and determine if any gases are present. These tests are conducted by the licensee and all subsequent results are reported to the AER. Should a gas detection test find a leak, the licensee must meet with the appropriate landowners to discuss an appropriate course of action.