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'What exactly did we get?' Alberta senator questions hundreds of millions to clean up orphan wells

An Alberta senator is trying to get answers about orphan well cleanup in the province and whether federal funding is being properly used to do so. 

On Monday, Sen. Paula Simons cited a report from the Parliamentary budget officer (PBO) released in January that shows more than half a billion federal dollars for orphan and inactive well cleanup has gone to large energy companies.

"I asked (the PBO) whether any of that $556 million had gone to cleaning up actual orphaned wells. And I was informed by the parliamentary budget analyst that not one single orphan well in Alberta  -- not one -- had been cleaned up with this grant money," Simons said Monday. 

The federal government allocated $1.7 billion for the cleanup of inactive and orphan wells in 2020, with $1 billion going to Alberta. The money is being handed out through the province's Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) in stages. The Orphan Well Association was also given a $200 million loan at the time. 

The PBO confirmed to CTV News that its analysts found that, of the $1 billion in funding to Alberta, more than half had been given to large companies it considers to be viable. 

At the time of the report, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) had received $102 million, Cenovus Energy received $12 million, Husky Energy was given $16 million and Imperial Oil Resources Limited received $11.7 million. Those amounts are increasing as the province works through applications and the different stages of the SRP. 

"So now I'd like to ask, what exactly did we get for the $102.5 million we gave to CNRL, or the $18 million we gave to Cenovus, or the $16 million we gave to Husky, or the $12 million we gave to Imperial Oil under this federal cleanup plan?" Simons asked. 

"And to what are we actually going to do to clean up the wells that are actually orphaned?" 

The government representative in the senate, Marc Gold, said he'd make inquiries into Simons's questions. 

In a statement, CNRL said the federal funding helped the company and others reclaim inactive well sites and support job creation. 

"Canadian Natural is committed to the effective and efficient management of our liabilities and environmental footprint, including reducing the inventory of inactive wells through a robust program of well abandonment and progressive reclamation activities," the statement reads in part.

"For example, Canadian Natural abandoned 5,570 inactive wells in western Canada from 2015 to 2020 in addition to over 3,000 inactive wells abandoned in 2021." Top Stories

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