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Alberta’s Oil Fields Should Become Clean Energy Sources in the Near Future

Alberta oil fields could rejuvenate Canada

Across Canada, there are over 100,000 inactive or ‘orphaned’ oil wells that lie unused. The problem with these wells is that they can pollute the local area.1 An estimated 95,700 wells are in Alberta alone, 36,600 in Saskatchewan and 12,350 in British Columbia. Cleanup costs for just one well can range from CAD $100,000 to several million dollars.2

In April 2020, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that the federal government would spend CAD $1.7 billion to clean up some of the orphan wells.3 But, some say that these wells should be repurposed instead of just cleaned up.4 

What is holding companies back from repurposing abandoned oil fields?

Abandoned oil fields in Alberta are a huge problem for the province and Canada’s environment. While the abandoned wells are usually sealed, they can still leak toxic gases or other substances and contaminate the surrounding ground.5 Therefore, we should repurpose these oil fields for cleaner energy, such as geothermal, solar and hydrogen. Moreover, they could be used to create hubs for carbon capture and storage, or for mining minerals, such as lithium for electric vehicle batteries.6 

However, unfortunately, this isn’t possible. Canada’s regulatory authorities do not allow abandoned oil wells to be repurposed. Furthermore, there is little clarity and collaboration among regulators, critics say.7 This is a wasted opportunity for jobs, in addition to building a stronger energy policy for Alberta.

Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

What would be the benefits of turning Alberta’s oil fields into sites of clean energy?

Currently, Alberta is Canada’s leading producer of energy, thanks to its oil and gas fields. But, it has the potential to lead the country in wind and solar power by 2025, according to a recent report. “It’s simply that we have the best resource in terms of what we call capacity factor — so the frequency with which the wind blows here is high, which makes the unit cost low”, says Blake Shaffer at the University of Calgary. He also says that the Alberta province has the potential for solar energy development only second to Saskatchewan.8 Turning Alberta’s oil fields into sites of clean energy would reduce Canada’s carbon emissions. The province is Canada’s biggest emitter of carbon emissions.9

Moreover, it would accelerate Alberta’s transition to a clean energy powerhouse, create jobs and spur clean energy innovation. Catherine Abreu from Climate Action Network Canada says that “Alberta still can be an energy powerhouse by producing renewable energy, because there’s huge potential here for geothermal, wind and solar energy in Alberta”.10

Sources

  1. Riley, S. (2020). 11 things you need to know as Trudeau announces $1.7 billion to clean up “festering” orphan and inactive wells. [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/11-things-trudeau-1-7-billion-clean-up-festering-orphan-inactive-wells/.
  2. Harris, K. (2020). Trudeau announces aid for struggling energy sector, including $1.7B to clean up orphan wells. [online] CBC. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/financial-aid-covid19-trudeau-1.5535629 [Accessed 9 Jun. 2021].
  3. Riley, S. (2020). 11 things you need to know as Trudeau announces $1.7 billion to clean up “festering” orphan and inactive wells. [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/11-things-trudeau-1-7-billion-clean-up-festering-orphan-inactive-wells/
  4. Wittevrongel, K. (2021). WITTEVRONGEL: Regulatory quicksand holds back clean tech in Alberta. [online] The Western Standard. Available at: https://westernstandardonline.com/2021/05/wittevrongel-regulatory-quicksand-holds-back-clean-tech-in-alberta/ [Accessed 9 Jun. 2021].
  5. Riley, S. (2020). 11 things you need to know as Trudeau announces $1.7 billion to clean up “festering” orphan and inactive wells. [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/11-things-trudeau-1-7-billion-clean-up-festering-orphan-inactive-wells/.
  6. Wittevrongel, K. (2021). WITTEVRONGEL: Regulatory quicksand holds back clean tech in Alberta. [online] The Western Standard. Available at: https://westernstandardonline.com/2021/05/wittevrongel-regulatory-quicksand-holds-back-clean-tech-in-alberta/ [Accessed 9 Jun. 2021].
  7. Wittevrongel, K. (2021). WITTEVRONGEL: Regulatory quicksand holds back clean tech in Alberta. [online] The Western Standard. Available at: https://westernstandardonline.com/2021/05/wittevrongel-regulatory-quicksand-holds-back-clean-tech-in-alberta/.
  8. Seskus, T. (2020). How Alberta — yes, Alberta — could lead Canada in wind and solar by 2025. [online] CBC News. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/alberta-wind-and-solar-future-1.5728757.
  9. Grey, L., Boothe, P. and Boudreault, F.-A. (2016). Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management Cool Grey 9 Reverse Version. [online] . Available at: https://www.ivey.uwo.ca/media/2112500/4462-ghg-emissions-report-v03f.pdf.
  10. Calgary Journal. (2020). Analysis: Renewables are key to Alberta’s energy future. [online] Available at: https://calgaryjournal.ca/2020/12/18/analysis-renewables-are-key-to-albertas-energy-future/ [Accessed 9 Jun. 2021].
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