Okay so let’s talk about the elephant in the room… the government bailout announcement on March 17th and the $1.7 billion for oil well cleanups. A lot of you sent us comments asking why taxpayers’ money should be given to clean up big polluters’ messes and you are totally right to ask and care. Here’s our two cents.
We truly think companies should pay for oil wells, mines and tailing ponds. No questions there.
1- We have always said and still say that instituting true polluters should pay for oil wells, mines, and tailings ponds to prevent new orphan wells needs to be a condition for public dollars to address the backlog;
2- But the thousands of existing abandoned wells (whose former owners are bankrupt and will never pay to clean up their mess) pose an immediate health and environmental threat to landowners, First Nations and adjacent communities that needs to be addressed. This is why Trudeau’s announcement about $1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money for oil well cleanups is not ideal, but there is an environmental justice element here that cannot be ignored.
4- Starting now, money for orphan well cleanup should be administered by an independent fund with representation from Indigenous communities, local governments and landowners who can ensure it is used to reclaim wells where the company is bankrupt and its remaining assets have already been spent for this purpose. It should also be tied to regulatory change in Alberta to ensure the province puts in place a polluter-pays program so the public is not left with these liabilities in the future.
5- The federal government has heard the concerns of over 32,400 people who have signed our petition in support of bailing out people, not oil executives. It is using this funding as leverage, requiring the government of Alberta to commit to ”implement strengthened regulation to significantly reduce the future prospect of new orphan wells. This will create a sustainably funded system that ensures companies are bearing the costs of their environmental responsibilities.” As part of this funding, local landowners will also have the ability to nominate and prioritize wells for remediation, funding will be prioritized to companies that are in good standing with respect to municipal taxes and the federal government stated it “will ensure municipal and Indigenous engagement.” We’ll keep watching to make sure this happens.
Long story short, any agreements with corporations going forward SHOULD and MUST take environmental remediation into consideration.