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Orphan wells pose risk

B.C.'s auditor general says there are almost 7,500 inactive oil and gas wells in the province that have not been properly decommissioned.

Carol Bellringer says in a report that contamination from oil and gas activity can affect human health, ecosystems, water and air quality and timely restoration of non-operating well sites reduces environmental risk and financial liability.

Bellringer's audit says the province's energy regulator the BC Oil and Gas Commission lacked the tools until recently to compel operators to decommission and restore well sites in a timely way.

The audit says the industry's fund to cover decommission and restoration costs at inactive sites was short more than $13 million last year and operators of oil and gas wells are currently liable for estimated restoration costs of $3 billion as of February.

The oil and gas commission says the report covers a period from January 2015 to October 2018, but since then the B.C. government amended legislation giving the regulator more power to ensure clean-up of inactive well sites.

Bellringer's audit makes 11 recommendations to the commission, including completion of work to develop and implement regulations, policies and procedures to ensure that operators decommission wells and restore sites in a timely manner.



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