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Alberta Landowners Guide, Reclamation of Well and Other Sites

Landowners Guide Cover.jpg
3rd edition
Authors:            Duncan Kenyon, Nikki Way, Andrew Read, Barend Dronkers, Benjamin Israel, Binnu Jeyakumar, Nina Lothian
Publisher: Pembina Institute
Publish Date: October 2016
PDF Download: [Landowners' Guide]              [Landowners' Primer]                                                                    
Initiation Phase
Exploration Phase
Development Phase
Pipelines and Other Infrastructure
Environmental Impacts
Abandonment and Reclamation
                Closing Down and Reclaiming Wells
                Well and Pipeline Abandonment and Related

                Reclamation of Well and Other Sites
                Operator Insolvency and Orphan Wells
Compensation, Rights, and Hearings

Reclamation of Well Sites

Alberta and Parks has an online, searchable Environmental Site Assessment Repository (ESAR) where you can find documentation on site assessments and reclamation certificates.[1][2]
Additionally, the Environmental Law Centre provides a search service for enforcement records under the Environmental Enhancement and Protection Act and the Water Act.[3]

The reclamation process

The purpose of the reclamation process is to return the land to equivalent land capability, i.e. “the ability of the land to support various land uses after conservation and reclamation is similar to the ability that existed prior to an activity being conducted on the land, but that the individual land uses will not necessarily be identical.”[4] Once a well has been shut down and surface abandonment has been completed according to the AER requirements, the land can be reclaimed and a reclamation certificate issued.

It is estimated that there were over 50,000 abandoned but unreclaimed wells in Alberta at the end of 2011.[5] There is a growing backlog of sites awaiting a reclamation certificate. Previously, reclamation inquires were conducted for a well, industrial pipeline or battery, but reclamation inquiries are no longer required.[6] AER staff conduct random field audits for reclamation and remediation on approximately 15% of all certified sites.[7] A company has to demonstrated that it has met all reclamation criteria and show that the site was assessed to determine if contamination is present. If so, the company must also show the site was remediated to meet remediation requirements.

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Part 5, and the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation set the standards for conservation and reclamation. The regulations apply to specified land, which includes land that has been used for a well site, pipeline or battery. The AER’s Application Submission Requirements and Guidance for Reclamation Certificates for Well Sites and Associated Facilities[8] sets out the actual reclamation requirements that operators must meet to obtain a reclamation certificate on cultivated lands, forested lands, and native grasslands. The AER has released the Reclamation and Remediation (R&R) Fact Sheet[9] to provide information and updates on the reclamation and remediation processes.

Before abandoning a well, the company is required to send a letter to you as the landowner/occupant, inviting your input and comments on the reclamation process.[10] It is very important for you to be involved and inform the company of any issues relating to the reclamation, especially in light of any responsibilities you have as a landowner with regards to abandoned wells under the Municipal Government Act Subdivision and Development Regulation. You should point out any locations where you think the ground may be contaminated and ensure that any drilling waste disposal areas are properly reclaimed. The company is required to have documentation showing that it complied with the AER’s Directive 050: Drilling Waste Management, which includes a written agreement with the owner. The company can do this by submitting the Drilling Waste Notification Form required under Directive 050 or by meeting other criteria set out by AER.[11] If a company is unable to show that drilling waste was handled in the approved manner, it must carry out a Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment (see below).

To find more information on an application in your area, you can search the Public Notice of Application database on the AER website.[12] To access the documents related to an application you can search the Integrated Application Registry on the AER website.[13] Information on abandonments and reclamations is only accessible to companies.

In addition, you should tell the company if you wish to keep the access road, so that it is not reclaimed, but this detail may have to be worked out as a condition of the surface agreement (see Signing the Lease Agreement). In order for a road to remain after reclamation it must be built to grade, which may not be the case if it was built as a temporary access road.[14] If a site had natural vegetation before the well was drilled, you can request that reseeding or replanting be done with native plants, rather than with cultivated varieties such as crested wheat grass and timothy. Alberta Native Plant Council provides contacts for more information.

Before a company applies for a reclamation certificate, it must carry out a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA).[15] The Phase 1 ESA is meant to gather enough information to determine the likelihood and probable locations for contamination and to decide whether further assessment is needed. This includes a review of the company’s file, the AER spills database and historical aerial photographs. A company representative must visit the site, take photographs and write a report that describes the site, including any pits or facilities that remain, evidence of surface spills, vegetation and land use. They must also conduct and report on an interview with a past or present operator and/or you as the landowner.[16]

If the Phase 1 assessment finds that there may be contamination on the site, or that there is insufficient information to determine the likelihood of contamination at a site, the operator must carry out a Phase 2 environmental site assessment.[17] Also, if they do not have information on the contents of the drilling waste or location of the drilling waste disposal area, they must conduct a Phase 2 environmental site assessment (unless the drilling waste qualifies for an exemption).[18] A Phase 2 ESA means taking samples of soil and groundwater and identifying any areas of the site that do not meet AER’s remediation guidelines. Since January 2008, professional sign off is required for Phase 1 and Phase 2 ESAs and all land remediation and reclamation work. The company is required to carry out remediation and take more samples to show that the remediation objectives have been achieved.

The land has to be returned to equivalent land capability. Since relatively few sites will be audited by the AER, it is important for the landowner to check the site for

  • the condition of the landscape (drainage problems, evidence of erosion or unstable slopes, gravel, rocks or debris that needs removing, problems with vegetation or bare areas)
  • the condition of the soil (soil depth and quality, any soil compaction)
  • the vegetation (species composition and growth performance)
  • weeds, invasive species, or diseases (such as clubroot).

Reclamation requirements are based on when the site was constructed. Sites are required to have at least 80% replacement of topsoil, contouring, and seeding or replanting of the surface. Every attempt must be made to use available surface soil in reclaiming a site. When complete, the land’s productive capacity should be equivalent to what it was before the well site disturbance. For sites built prior to April 30, 1994, applications can be submitted as a non-routine application without meeting the soil depth requirement, but a management plan must be in place.[19]

When the remediation and reclamation work is complete, the company can apply to the Alberta Energy Regulator for a reclamation certificate. The company must supply the landowner with a copy of all the documents they submit as part of their application for a reclamation certificate. In addition to the application, the documentation will include the Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment and also the Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment, where this was necessary. You should check that the assessment shows:

  • when the well was drilled
  • what happened to any hydraulic fracturing fluids and drilling waste
  • whether there was a water well and where it was located
  • the location of any sumps
  • whether there was ever a spill of any kind on the surface
  • if the land was sprayed to control weeds, and if so, when and with what.

The company should have information dating back to the beginning, even if the well changed hands several times. If these records for a Phase 1 assessment are incomplete or do not correspond with your recollection of events, you should ask the company to conduct a Phase 2 assessment before they apply for a certificate. A Phase 2 assessment should also be requested if there were any problems or leaks and the full remediation has not already been confirmed.

It is very important to visit the site. As the landowner, your personal inspection is most important, since formal reclamation inquiries (a mandatory inspection of a site before granting a reclamation certificate) are no longer held. If you are not completely satisfied with the reclamation work conducted by the company, you should contact the company and have them revisit the site with you. The company is expected to make every effort to engage with the landowner, to work to resolve any outstanding issues that they may have. However, if you still believe the work is unsatisfactory after the company has submitted their application for reclamation approval, immediately submit your statement of concern (see Filing a Statement of Concern) before the deadline set out in the notice.

If a reclamation certificate was issued by the AER and you are still not satisfied with the way in which AER or the company handled your complaint and feel that the reclamation certificate should be cancelled, you can submit a complaint via the complaint form that the company should have supplied to you.[20] You can also contact AER,[21] where your complaint will be forwarded to the appropriate field centre. All complaints are investigated, and substantiated complaints may lead to the cancellation of the reclamation certificate. It may be prudent to submit a regulatory appeal (see Regulatory Appeals for AER Decisions Made Without a Hearing2) at the same time as your complaint if you are uncertain that the issues will be resolved. You can always withdraw the appeal if all your concerns about the reclamation are dealt with before the appeal date.

Until the reclamation certificate is issued, the company must continue paying any annual fees to the landowner or occupant. If the company fails to pay, the Surface Rights Board can be asked to pay the compensation. A company may apply to pay less rent once the above-ground structures have been removed (see Compensation for Wells and Facilities1).

All materials from the reclamation process should be cleared away before a certificate is granted. If a company wants to leave any materials or debris for collection after the reclamation certificate is given, you should negotiate another temporary lease agreement.

The AER will conduct audits for only a small sample of the surface reclamation and/or remediation on sites issued a reclamation or remediation certificate. These are conducted randomly, or targeted based on risk. An audit of a reclaimed site will include a site visit to conduct a visual inspection to determine if reclamation criteria have been met. If the site is audited for remediation, the inspector may conduct intrusive soil sampling and lab analysis on top of the visual inspection. If the audit results indicate that the site does not meet AER’s reclamation criteria or remediation requirements, the certificate may be cancelled. Additionally, you can contact the AER if you believe a company’s reclamation activities aren’t sufficient. You can find more information about a specific audit on the AER’s Reclamation Certificate Application Tool.[22]

Even when a reclamation certificate has been issued, the company remains responsible for some time. At the time of writing, a company is responsible for 25 years for surface reclamation issues such as vegetation, soil texture, drainage etc; and it has a lifetime liability for contamination.[23] If there is a problem with the regrowth of vegetation or the site of the sump sinks, you should notify the company and ask them to rectify it. The AER (see Alberta Energy Regulator) should also be notified at this time. Information published by the Alberta Energy Regulator gives more information on AER publications relating to land reclamation.

Suspension of wells: When a company has suspended operations at a well site but has not yet abandoned it, its requirements are set by Directive 013: Suspension Requirements for Wells. The 2016 draft Directive 013 has some changes to the suspension deadlines as well as a few changes to the testing and plugging requirements.

Reclamation of Other Sites

While the above section has focused on oil and gas well sites, similar provisions apply to all oil production sites, batteries and other facilities and pipelines. All these activities take place on specified land, which is covered by the Conservation and Reclamation Regulations. More information is provided in Reclamation Criteria for Wellsites and Associated Facilities.[24]

Other specific requirements for the conservation and reclamation of oil production sites are set out in the Oil and Gas Conservation Rules.[25]

Pipeline abandonment

When a pipeline is no longer used it must be abandoned according to the regulations and left in a safe condition[26] and it may be abandoned in place or completely removed. The Pipeline Act and Pipeline Regulation (see Pipeline Act) outlines the requirement for the abandonment of the physical pipelines used for gathering and transmission,[27] and the pipeline right-of-way must be reclaimed to AER’s standards. Land use is the most important factor to consider in determining whether a pipeline section should be abandoned in place or removed. The possibility that the long-term structural deterioration of a pipeline abandoned in place may cause some ground subsidence should also be considered. These and many other factors are evaluated in the Pipeline Abandonment Scoping Study commissioned by the National Energy Board.[28]

Section 60 of the Pipeline Regulation and Directive 056 requires a company to notify the AER when it has abandoned a pipeline. The company must first notify the landowners/occupants affected by the proposed removal or abandonment. If you object to removal or abandonment or are concerned about ownership or liability for the pipeline after it has been abandoned in place, you should tell the AER. The company may prefer to abandon the pipeline in place, which may reduce additional disturbance to the land and reduce more extensive reclamation work.

The Pipeline Act states that, even though a company is permitted to abandon a pipeline, it remains liable for other operations that may need to be carried out.[29] However, you should ensure that the right-of-way will be properly monitored and any problems associated with the abandonment remediated. When carrying out the abandonment activities, the company should give prior written notice to the landowner and must compensate the landowner for direct expenses and any resulting damage to land, crop or livestock.

Once the pipeline itself has been abandoned, the surface right-of-way may need reclamation. The AER is responsible for ensuring the proper reclamation of a right-of- way, including the specified land associated with the pipeline.

In the past there have been problems with the reclamation of pipelines operated by companies that are no longer in business, but pipelines are now covered by the Orphan Well Association (see Inactive Wells, Orphan Wells and Pipelines).


  1. This material is from the Pembina Institute publication 'Landowners' Guide to Oil and Gas Development, 3rd edition (2016)'
  2. Alberta Environment and Parks, “Environmental Site Assessment Repository.” www.esar.alberta.ca
  3. Environmental Law Centre, “Search Services.” http://elc.ab.ca/what-we-do/search-services/
  4. Alberta, Conservation and Reclamation Regulation, 115/1993. Alberta government acts and regulations are available at Alberta Queen’s Printer, “Laws Online/Catalogue.”
  5. Jason Unger, Reclaiming Tomorrow Today: Regulatory timing for abandonment and reclamation of well sites in Alberta (Environmental Law Centre, 2013), 11.
  6. Conservation and Reclamation Regulation, s 6(2)(a).
  7. Government of Alberta, Update Report on Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s Upstream Oil and Gas Reclamation Certificate Program (2014).
    https://open.alberta.ca/publications/update-report-on-upstream-oil-and-gas-reclamation-certificate-program. Note that this requirement may no longer be the case after publication. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  8. AER, Specified Enactment Direction 002: Application Submission Requirements and Guidance for Reclamation Certificates for Well Sites and Associated Facilities (2016).
    https://www.aer.ca/rules-and-regulations/specified-enactment-direction; Additionally, see Alberta Environment and Parks, “Wellsite Reclamation Certificate Application Process: 2010 Reclamation Criteria.” http://aep.alberta.ca/lands-forests/land-industrial/programs-and-services/reclamation-and-remediation/upstream-oil-and-gas-reclamation-and-remediation-program/wellsite-reclamation-certificate-application-process.aspx
  9. AER, Reclamation and Remediation Fact sheet (2014). EnerFAQs and Fact Sheets are available at AER, “EnerFAQs (Q&As)” https://www.aer.ca/providing-information/news-and-resources/enerfaqs-and-fact-sheets.html. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  10. Alberta Environment and Parks, Sample Abandonment Letter for Wellsites, C&R IL/00-1. Conservation and Reclamation Information Letters are available at Alberta Environment and Parks, “Information Centre.”
    https://www.aer.ca/regulating-development/project-closure/suspension-and-abandonment/how-are-wells-abandoned.html. This may no longer be a requirement of the AER. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  11. AER, Assessing Drilling Waste Disposal Areas: Compliance Options for Reclamation Certification (2014), Compliance Option 2.
  12. AER, “Public Notice of Application.” https://www.aer.ca/regulating-development/project-application/notices/2020-notices.html. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  13. AER, “Integrated Application Registry.” https://dds.aer.ca/iar_query/FindApplications.aspx
  14. Alberta Transportation is responsible for approving permanent access roads.
  15. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, A Guide to Remediation Certificates for Upstream Oil & Gas Sites (2012).
    https://open.alberta.ca/publications/9781460105955. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  16. Alberta Environment, Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment Guideline for Upstream Oil and Gas Sites (2001).
  17. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment Checklist, (2013). https://open.alberta.ca/publications/9781460108055. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  18. Assessing Drilling Waste Disposal Areas.
  19. “Wellsite Reclamation Certificate Application Process: 2010 Reclamation Criteria.”
  20. Also available at AER, Upstream Oil and Gas Facility Complaint Form.
    https://www.aer.ca/protecting-what-matters/giving-albertans-a-voice/file-a-complaint.html. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  21. You can contact the AER on their 24-hour response line at 1-800-222-6514
  22. AER, “Reclamation Certificate Application Tool.”
    https://www1.aer.ca/onestop/documents/RecCertTool_UserGuide.pdf. This link has been updated since the 2016 publication; the updated link may no longer contain the original information.
  23. AER, Closure – Abandonment, Reclamation, and Remediation Fact sheet (2014).
  24. “Wellsite Reclamation Certificate Application Process: 2010 Reclamation Criteria.”
  25. Alberta, Oil and Gas Conservation Rules, 151/1971.
  26. Alberta, Pipeline Regulations, 91/2005. s 82 (1).
  27. AER, Directive 056: Energy Development Applications and Schedules (2014), sections 6.9.6 and 6.9.7.
  28. Det Norske Veritas, Pipeline Abandonment Scoping Study, prepared for the National Energy Board (2010). https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/prtcptn/pplnbndnmnt/pplnbndnmntscpngstd.pdf
  29. Alberta, Pipeline Act, RSA 2000, c P-15, s 25.