Interest shown in projects around Lesser Slave Lake

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

In response to low oil prices and COVID-19, the Alberta and Canadian governments made a grant program for oil well reclamation.

Companies which work in the Lesser Slave Lake area have applied for funding. This is different from the Orphan Well Association, which also received a loan.

Dr. Dean MacKenzie lives half the time in Marten River and the other half in Sherwood Park. He is vice-president for Northern Environmental at Vertex Resource Group.

A large number of oilfield and support industry workers have been laid off, says MacKenzie. While the government hasn’t released the full details of the grant program, he thinks it will help the industry.

“It’s [the grants] good for the industry,” says MacKenzie.

There are a lot of wells that need to be abandoned or reclaimed. With the new money from the government, in the next two years site rehabilitation should be pretty busy.

This work can continue year round, as there are various stages to abandonment and reclamation. Winter is the best time for some, but others work better in summer.

Vertex has applied for various projects in partnership with oilfield companies. Some of these are in the Lesser Slave Lake area. A few of the projects have been approved and other applications are outstanding.

The oil and gas industry is an important part of the Lesser Slave Lake region. It has a long history in the region.

‘To drill at High Prairie’ was an article in Nov. 21, 1918 Peace River Standard says, “Slipper and Co. are putting an oil well drilling outfit in at High Prairie where they have lease holdings. Dick Coolinge expects to leave in a few days for High Prairie to erect their derrick for them.”

At the time, in the village of Peace River there were two oil wells being drilled.

The most recent regional data on oil and gas wells by region is from 2018. It is available on Alberta government’s regional dashboard. In 2018, there were 451 wells, in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River, says the dashboard. This was the fourth highest in the province. At the time, it was the fastest growing municipality for oil wells in the province.

There are four municipalities around Lesser Slave Lake. These are the M.D. of Lesser Slave River, the M.D. of Opportunity, Big Lakes County, Town of High Prairie, and the M.D. of Smoky River. There aren’t any wells in the towns, but there are wells on reserves in the area as well.

In 2018, there were 543 wells in these four municipalities producing 1 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 6.6 million cubic metres of oil. The natural gas reserve was 12.9 m3. Since 2003, the number of wells from 2003-18 ranged from 55 in 2015 to 1,044 in 2011.

The orphan well projects are wells that no one owns because the company which drilled them has gone bankrupt.

There is another program to deal with these wells. The Alberta Site Reclamation has three phases. In the first phase of the grant process, companies can receive 25, 50 or 100 per cent of the costs.

In the middle of May, applications were open for the first phase. MacKenzie thinks that there were over 30,000 applications for this money.

June 15, the second phase opened. The two main stages covered by the grant are abandonment and reclamation.

Abandonment means to “cut and cap it,” says MacKenzie, which is to decommission the well. This is done by filling the well with cement, which removes the well. Reclamation means bringing the land to a similar productive state as before the well was drilled.

In the case of forest, part of this is tree planting. Before the cement can be poured, there are environmental tests which have to be done, says MacKenzie.

There are three potential phases of tests. If a well site passes one phase, the others aren’t necessary.

Vertex is a consultation firm which does all three phases. Phase 1 is a background review of the site which includes looking at aerial photos, drilling records, and the history of the site to look for any possible source of contamination.

For example, wells drilled 30 years ago were flooded with diesel instead of water, which can be a source of contamination.

Another example is if there are oil tanks on site, there is a potential of a spill. If there are any red flags, Phase 2 is required. In Phase 2, on site oil samples are taken with a drill or hand auger. If there is salt, hydrocarbon, metals or any other contaminants, Phase 3 is required. Phase 3 is remediation – removing the contamination. Once the well site passes the environmental tests it can be abandoned.

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