Dr. Swann Debates Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading) – 17 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to Bill 14 in its second reading, An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation. Something that we see recurrently in the history of Alberta is this ongoing challenge of meeting those environmental concerns that have been left from bankrupt or otherwise dissolved organizations.

The attempt by the previous government to provide through the Orphan Well Association fairly modest annual payments based on the licensing liability association regulations clearly has not met the need. It points again to other major liabilities that we and our children are facing around the oil sands and the tailings ponds, which are many more billions of dollars of potential liability because we haven’t required appropriate bonding or set asides in the event of stranded assets or bankruptcies or abandonments by companies of these operations.

Cleary, this is going to take us into a more positive position in relation to these wells, and I’m pleased to see that the polluter pays principle will be front and centre in this. These will be loans. In fact, it appears – and this is my first reading of it, Madam Speaker – that there will be borrowing costs and interest associated with the loans. Very good news. I think we have to be consistent in our approach to the responsibilities of industry to meet their obligations under the act, and it would set a very dangerous precedent if it were anything but a loan.

The double benefit, of course, is that we have servicing compan-ies that are going to be employed, in some cases after some period of time of being unemployed. So this is a win-win for the economy, for sustaining some of the jobs in the province, and for getting some appropriate cleanup. A long way to go; $30 million isn’t going to go very far in the long list of potential abandonments as is needed.

While I fully support it, I guess there are lots of questions still to be considered. One of them would be whether or not the Alberta government is planning to make loans through other sources to this fund or if the federal fund is the sole fund that is going to be provided for these companies to do the reclamation and rehabil-itation work. If we are borrowing more money or putting more public liability at risk through loans, I think we would have to have a very serious discussion since there’s already quite a lot being put aside in terms of borrowing by this government, and I would be very concerned if it was going beyond that. But there may be some other opportunities for providing loans to companies which I haven’t considered but perhaps the government has.

So my only caveat is that we not put any more public dollars in Alberta in jeopardy through further loans and that unless we have some other means of – and I hope perhaps at some time in this next year we’ll see some real amendments to the orphan well fund, that we’ll look at issues around reclamation of the oil sands and the tailings ponds because we’ll be dealing with the same issues over the next 10 years at a much higher level with respect to abandon-ment or reclamation and remediation in the oil sands and the tailings ponds.

But this is a good start. I mean, to give the government credit, we are moving forward on some of the most thorny issues that this province has faced for the last 20 or 25 years. I can congratulate both the federal government and the provincial government on taking what are quite necessary steps in particular at this time.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.