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Indigenous collaboration enhances reclamation of oil and natural gas sites

BC Oil and Gas Research and Innovation Society working with Indigenous communities in B.C. to restore legacy oil and gas sites.

Collaboration is a powerful tool, bringing together diverse expertise and perspectives that ultimately make a project better.

Take the ongoing work across northern British Columbia to identify, assess, and reclaim legacy oil and natural gas land disturbances. Of about 25,000 well sites in B.C., approximately 770 are considered orphan – that is, these sites have no specific company responsible for site clean-up (for example, due to a bankruptcy), but industry collectively remains responsible for proper decommissioning. In addition, there are more than 8,500 dormant well sites in B.C., meaning the well is currently not producing but are regulated with prescribed regulatory timelines for full well decommissioning and site reclamation. Other disturbances to be reclaimed include old seismic lines and access roads.

How are orphan wells managed in B.C.?

In B.C. orphan wells are managed through an industry levy called the Orphan Site Reclamation Fund (OSRF), which is administered by the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC). Through this program, the industry is aiming to restore the existing inventory of orphan wells and other sites within 10 years.

Read more: Government of Canada helps fund orphan well reclamation

Past oil and natural gas developments can have long-lasting effects on habitat and ecosystems, creating a variety of management challenges. To address this history of legacy impacts, in 2020, the Province of British Columbia and the oil and natural gas sector partnered to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on planning and jointly funding projects designed to restore legacy disturbances, with Indigenous input to help ensure restoration is culturally appropriate.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Legacy Sites Restoration Program

The result is the Petroleum and Natural Gas Legacy Sites Restoration Program, a collaboration between the provincial and federal governments, Indigenous communities, and industry associations. The program has a variety of benefits, from providing training for Indigenous participants, and an opportunity for Indigenous communities to work directly with provincial and industry representatives to provide input such as traditional knowledge.

Read more: Petroleum 101: the many faces of reclamation

Several sources have provided about $6.5 million to support the work, including funds from industry and funds provided to the province by the Government of Canada as part of its COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. Funding is managed under the BC Oil and Gas Research and Innovation Society (BC OGRIS).

Aboriginal Liaison Program

The Aboriginal Liaison Program (ALP) has been created as a means for Indigenous communities to participate with the independent regulator in compliance and enforcement programs. The objective is for individuals from Indigenous communities to represent their concerns, work with natural resource agencies to ensure those concerns are addressed, and to participate in inspection and reporting on natural resource development activities in their communities and traditional territory.

ALP began in 2014 as a partnership between Doig River First Nation in northeastern B.C. and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. Since then, ALP has expanded to include 15 First Nations along with multiple government natural resource agencies. Participating First Nation communities provide a local representative as a Liaison to observe and report to their communities about resource development activities on their traditional territories. ALP provides training to build Liaison knowledge and understanding of development activities and impacts. Liaisons also engage with natural resource agencies to provide input about local traditional knowledge and the impacts of resource development within traditional territories. This interaction helps government and regulatory staff understand First Nations’ values and traditional ecological knowledge and learn first-hand about the culture and community of the Indigenous peoples they work with.

Read more: Partnering with Indigenous communities

BC OGRIS is a not-for-profit society with membership from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), and The Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (EPAC). It has been funded by industry levy administered by the BCOGC and through other ongoing contributions from public and private sources. OGRIS is focused on coordinating research in areas such as, caribou research, air monitoring programs, methane abatement, seismicity, and seismic arrays. Restoration funding through the Legacy Sites MOU is open to all Treaty 8 Nations in B.C. To date, OGRIS has funded restoration projects with three-quarters of the Treaty 8 First Nations.