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Why Alberta Should Repurpose Abandoned Wells for Renewable Energy

There are currently numerous dormant oil and gas wells sitting idle across Alberta — but advocates from Energy Futures Lab and the Canada West Foundation say this infrastructure like wellbores, roads and pad space that could find other energy uses, including geothermal, micro-solar, hydrogen, recovery of lithium, or carbon capture and storage.

Julie Rohl of the Energy Futures Lab said of the oil companies, landowners, law firms and others who contributed to the report, "There are entrepreneurs that are trying to reuse old oil and gas infrastructure for new purposes … and what they're finding is that there are a number of roadblocks". Further, "One of them is just the quagmire of the regulatory environment and how these sites are managed and regulated by a number of different regulatory bodies."

According to CBC, Alberta has nearly 3,000 orphan wells, oil and gas wells "that haven't been remediated by their often-bankrupt owners" and more than 90,000 wells that are inactive for economic reasons.

Investing in repurposement is also good for the average taxpayer. Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project noted: “It’s a transparent attempt to pass this liability to someone else,” shifting the clean-up burden from the government to private companies. How significant is this? Quite so - the current estimated costs of decommissioning wells across Alberta is around $260 billion CAD. The development of renewables on abandoned sites also would aid to create new job opportunities across the region in question.

One such example of repurposement of old sites is the ease to which they could be converted into solar projects, Rohl noted, as old wells may already have the road access, the lease, a graveled site and the nearby power lines to tie into.

The idea may not be so far off. Last Thursday, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) and the Petroleum Services Association of Canada joined with geothermal developers in forming a new partnership to create jobs for displaced oil and gas drilling contractors and oil service workers.

"Drilling for deep geothermal resources requires advanced drilling technology and expertise and can put drilling rigs and associated services to work in this current economic slowdown," the Geothermal Collaboration Network said in a release.

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