Abandoned wells do not represent “astronomical sums”, assures Quebec

Even if the government still does not know how much the bill will be for cleaning up dozens of abandoned oil and gas wells on its territory, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, assured Tuesday that the funds public that will be spent do not represent “astronomical” sums.

The duty revealed Tuesday morning that it is currently impossible to obtain a precise assessment of the costs of decontamination of exploration wells which are the responsibility of the Quebec state. According to data from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MERN), 534 “inactive” wells have been located since 2018, and 241 others have not been found, despite inspections carried out by the ministry. Of this number, 209 are considered “non-locatable”.

Among the inactive wells located, the MERN assesses that 95 will require “works”, for example to stop natural gas or oil leaks. However, the only list including an evaluation of the restoration costs per well dates from March 31, 2020. It only counts 30 wells recorded as “contaminated sites liability” (PTSC), or less than a third of the wells that are officially to be restored. The estimated amount for these 30 wells totals $ 54 million.

The ministry sent us a more recent list, dated March 31, 2021. It has 44 wells, but it no longer includes a cost estimate, unlike the 2020 list. Despite repeated requests since last Friday, it was not possible to obtain further details.


Despite this lack of details, the minister responsible for the MERN, Jonatan Julien, wanted to be reassuring on Tuesday. “These are not astronomical sums,” he insisted when he was arrested by journalists in the National Assembly.

While recalling that 209 wells cannot be found, due to the lack of data to locate them, the Minister recalled that the government has earmarked $ 10 million in the most recent budget, in order to “secure” wells found and inspected by experts from the ministry, by 2023. “There is no danger in relation to the wells that have been visited. We are talking about ten million in the budget for the next two years, ”summarized Mr. Julien.

MERN inspection reports consulted by The duty do, however, point to risks. For example, for a well drilled near Trois-Rivières in 1956, the restoration costs are estimated at more than $ 7 million. The inspectors of the ministry noted there “A strong smell of hydrocarbons”, contamination of the soil by petroleum, a migration of gas which represents “a risk to the health or safety of persons” under article 130 of the Hydrocarbons Law.

A total of 16 of the 30 wells identified in the March 31, 2020 list could cost the Government of Quebec more than $ 1 million in “work”. For a 4,000-meter-deep well drilled in 1996 southeast of Trois-Rivières by the company Genoil, the “amount” entered in the PTSC is $ 14.1 million. This is the highest amount entered for a single well.


Why is the bill for only 30 of the 95 wells valued at $ 54 million? MERN inspection reports offer few details, but the ministry told the To have to that while waiting for a more precise estimate, “the cost of inclusion in liabilities is evaluated according to the depth of the wells”.

In order to obtain a more detailed assessment, the government launched two calls for tenders this year to find a company responsible for drawing up “a program for the permanent closure of inactive hydrocarbon wells” and for supervising the work to be done. to come. On two occasions, the call for tenders had to be canceled, the last time being on November 25, for lack of a bidder.

All of these “inactive” wells were drilled by companies that have long ceased to exist. Some of these wells were indeed drilled at the end of the 19th century.e century in the Gaspé and they still leak crude oil on the surface today, which has contaminated the soil, according to what emerges from inspection reports of recent years, with supporting photos.

This is the case with the wells of the Petroleum Oil Trust company, including one drilled in 1891 in Gaspé and whose cleaning bill is estimated at $ 3.4 million. In this case, the inspectors of the ministry also noted in 2019 “a strong leak of methane”, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than the CO.2, over a period of 20 years.

With François Carabin and Marie-Michèle Sioui

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