First Nations Concerned About Losing Money To Clean Up Old Oil And Gas Wells In Western Canada

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As Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan distribute $ 1.5 billion in federal funding to recover inactive oil and gas wells, Aboriginal leaders are concerned that more money will be spent on cleaning up their land.The federal government announced the program as part of its petroleum assistance program, designed to boost work for the petroleum services sector while reducing the environmental risk associated with aging infrastructure.

The three provincial governments have already started to disperse the money, but nothing has gone so far to clean up wells on First Nations lands, said Stephen Buffalo, President of the Indian Resource Council, who represents over 100 First Nations in oil and gas. reservations.

“We have been here before where we were told that things will be taken care of. Right now, we are in working committees [with government officials]. Meanwhile, these funds are being paid, ”said Buffalo.

“I don’t think some of our members are satisfied with the process. “

An oil pumpjack in southwest Alberta. The province, which has tens of thousands of inactive wells, has received $ 1 billion from Ottawa for sanitation. (Meghan Grant / CBC)

Federal money was distributed among British Columbia. ($ 120 million), Alberta ($ 1 billion) and Saskatchewan ($ 400 million). Another $ 200 million from Ottawa to the Orphan Well Association of Alberta is to be repaid.

As of June 19, the Alberta government has approved $ 40 million for more than 102 businesses.

Public spending is proving popular with industry. For example, the first phase of the Alberta program gives companies up to $ 30,000 to clean wells. In the first month of the program’s launch on May 1, about 3,000 companies had already requested the restoration of nearly 37,000 wells.

The IRC asks each province to allocate 10% of the federal money it receives to First Nations, which would represent approximately $ 150 million.

To date, only British Columbia has indicated a willingness to set aside funds specifically for First Nations. “The second $ 50 million increase could include a specific allowance for Aboriginal entrepreneurs,” said a letter from the province to IRC earlier this month.

A team is working to abandon a natural gas well in Alberta. As of June 19, the provincial government had approved $ 40 million for more than 102 companies to recover unused wells. (Kyle Bakx / CBC)

In a statement sent by email, Government of Saskatchewan spokesperson Ashley Schoff said businesses, communities and Indigenous peoples will benefit adequately from all phases of the well cleaning program. The government is working on its engagement process and intends to reach out to indigenous groups in the “days and weeks to come,” she said. Is there a specific allowance?

The Alberta government has not committed to a specific allocation either, but spokesperson Kavi Bal said in an emailed statement that “the necessary supports are in place to strengthen the broad participation of communities indigenous “.

WATCH | Stephen Buffalo on the occasion of cleaning up inactive wells:

The CEO of the Indian Resource Council does not want First Nations to miss the opportunity to restore inactive oil and gas wells. 1:22

Buffalo said discussions are underway with the three provinces. But he said that what the First Nations really need is a firm commitment.

“I just hope we don’t fall through the cracks,” he said. “Not everyone feels confident with the process we are going through right now. ”

Buffalo said the main concern is to clean up the wells to make sure there are no leaks that could contaminate First Nations lands. The spending could also create jobs in communities and activities for Aboriginal-owned petroleum service companies.

There are at least 900 wells on First Nation lands that would be eligible for federal funding, said chief Roy Fox of the Blood Tribe in southwest Alberta. In a letter to Federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, this month, he said he was concerned that little or no money would go to cleaning up wells on Indigenous territory.

Indian Oil and Gas Canada, the federal agency that manages resource development on First Nations lands, encourages the three provinces to ensure that some of Ottawa’s money is allocated to Aboriginal groups.

“This will boost employment opportunities for community members and promote their general well-being, especially in these unprecedented times,” wrote Strater Crowfoot, the agency’s CEO, in separate letters to the three provincial governments.

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