Orphan well funding program needs rules to be effective

Marlin Schmidt
Environment & Parks Critic
Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition

Clean up after yourself.

Every child and parent knows the command. We all learn that we are responsible for our own actions. It’s part of life.

Somewhere along the line, the message got somewhat lost along the way.

The Federal Government gave the Provincial Government $1 billion to address well liabilities and get Albertans back to work. This is a sensible idea. However, both governments have failed to put proper guardrails around the program to ensure that the funds are used in the best way possible.

For decades, the oil and gas industry did very well in this province, helping make this province one of the best places in the world to live. And they did so on the understanding that they would pay the clean-up costs when they finished pumping public resources from the ground.

Now, with the end coming soon for many conventional oil and gas wells, we should protect this agreement as much as we can. Thousands of landowners have already been cheated out of their surface lease payments. Local governments are owed millions of dollars in taxes from oil and gas companies that might never get paid.

It’s not right. And I have heard from many Albertans and landowners that the taxpayer-sponsored industry clean-up needs to have some strict guardrails in place to make sure the money does what it’s supposed to do. That means that companies with the financial capacity meet their legal obligation on their own and that the program needs set clear performance measures or clean-up criteria.

Right now, Premier Kenney’s billion-dollar program has no clear objective, criteria or targets.

The Alberta NDP plan fixes that. It protects taxpayers and puts the dollars to work where they are needed.

First, under the Alberta NDP plan, landowners will be paid their surface rights and municipalities will be receive their unpaid taxes.

Second, companies benefiting from the program should be selected on need or where Albertans see the most benefit. That means that oil and gas companies that benefit from the program should also contribute to the program as much as they can so it is not just a handout.

And third, clean-up sites must be selected in consultation with landowners. After all, taxpayers should have some say on how and where their money is spent.

These three proposals help improve the program. If we help clean up messes left by others, they should at the very least make sure that money goes to where it belongs.

Every kid and parent would agree.

Marlin Schmidt

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