Skip to main content

Taking action on inactive, abandoned and orphan oil and gas sites in B.C.

Oil and Gas Sites

Oil and gas sites are temporary uses on the land, which is why companies operating in B.C. are required to safely deactivate wells, pipelines and facilities and then clean-up and restore the land, after the equipment is no longer deemed useful.

Amendments to the Oil and Gas Activities Act in 2018 gave the Commission enhanced tools to ensure oil and gas sites are restored in a safe, responsible and timely manner. These changes are expected to increase the pace of restoration of inactive sites in the province.

The Commission can now:

  • Enforce an accelerated timeline for industry to restore inactive and abandoned sites.
  • Make sure industry continues to pay the full cost of restoration for all sites, including orphan sites, which is funded through an increased levy charged to industry.
  • Prevent operators with a history of insolvency from operating oil and gas sites in B.C.
  • Stop the transfer of oil and gas permits to companies that do not have the financial means to restore the sites.

The Commission developed a Comprehensive Liability Management Plan in 2019, which includes the new Dormancy Regulation, to make sure 100 per cent of the cost of reclaiming oil and gas sites in B.C. continues to be paid for by industry; ensuring no direct costs to B.C. residents. The new Dormancy Regulation makes B.C. the first province in western Canada to impose in law timelines for the cleanup of oil and gas wells.

The Comprehensive Liability Management Plan has three primary components:

  • Modernizing liability management
  • Improving the rate of inactive site restoration
  • Addressing orphan sites

The BC Oil and Gas Commission has the authority to restore orphan sites

Financial insolvency and other factors in recent years have resulted in an increase in the number of inactive, abandoned and orphan sites. The Commission has seen an increase of orphan well sites in B.C. from 45 in 2016 to 356 as of Jan. 31, 2020. If a company fails to adequately restore an inactive or abandoned site, the Commission can designate the site as an orphan and restore the site using money from the industry-funded Orphan Site Reclamation Fund. Oil and gas companies pay a monthly levy to cover the cost of restoring orphan sites. This ensures industry pays the full cost of restoration with no direct cost to residents.

Due to the recent increase in orphan sites, spending on orphan restoration has tripled in recent years to more than $16 million for 2019/2020. By increasing the levy paid by industry, we are ensuring industry continues to provide sufficient funding to restore sites in a safe, responsible and timely manner.

Restored Site

B.C. is receiving $100 million to decommission, assess and restore dormant sites--$15 million toward orphan site restoration and $5 million to clean up legacy disturbances.

Restoration Process Vine Graphic

How an orphan site is restored and reclaimed

There is an ordered process involved with the treatment of an orphan site. For example, sites must be deactivated and decommissioned before undertaking any significant reclamation work. The closure of orphan sites is a multi-year process where some phases may take place at the same time, such as well abandonment programs on some sites with reclamation programs on other sites. A site that requires all work phases to be completed may take more time than a site only requiring surface reclamation to replace soils and vegetation.

We have a program which ensures we get the resources to support closure and reclamation of all wells and facilities. Within the first year after orphan designation, pipelines are disconnected and purged of fluids and gases so they may be made safe. In addition, any high-priority wells are permanently decommissioned so they do not pose a risk to public safety.

Once sites are made safe, closure work considers the interests of impacted private land owners, the interests of impacted Indigenous communities and restoration goals.

Oil and gas companies are responsible for site restoration

Provincial legislation regards oil and gas activities as temporary land use and requires companies restore the land and water to its former condition at the end of a project’s life cycle. This includes restoring natural drainage patterns, replacing soils and replanting the site. The cost of this restoration work is paid for by oil and gas companies.

The BC Oil and Gas Commission issues a Certificate of Restoration to companies that demonstrate site restoration has been completed in a way that meets provincial standards. After a certificate has been issued, the Commission continues to monitor the site to ensure there are no remaining environmental impacts.

The Certificate of Restoration process

The final step in restoring a site is a Certificate of Restoration, which confirms a site was restored in accordance with current standards and requirements, and any known contamination issues or hazards were mitigated.

Operators in B.C. are required by law to properly deactivate projects such as wellsites, pipelines and facilities, and restore the associated land and may apply for a Certificate of Restoration.

An application for a Certificate of Restoration is a two-stage process. Part I requires the operator to complete a professional environmental assessment and, if necessary, address potential contamination issues. Part II requires professional assessment of the surface reclamation to ensure the site has been adequately restored.

See how we’re working with Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations to clean up old oil and gas sites in Northeast B.C. so they can be restored for future generations.
Website Feedback