Thursday, 01 February 2018 09:54

Action Surface Rights’ appeal at Supreme Court

Written by  Demi Knight
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Action Surface Rights’ appeal at Supreme Court File photo

Abandoned wells that are causing turmoil for landowners across the province may be seeing some legal movements during an appeal at the Supreme Court this February.

After spending time working with the support of the Alberta federation of Agriculture, farmers across the province, the National Farmers Union and other organizations, the Action Surface Rights Association have been granted an application to intervene the appeal that opposes a legal ruling allowing energy companies to walk away from unprofitable lands.
The ruling, known as the Redwater Decision, has been a hot topic of conversation as of late as it allows for bankrupt oil and gas companies to leave the wells on leased land abandoned should they not have the means to reclaim them, leaving the landowners to deal with the repercussions.
“It’s a difficult situation,” says Daryl Bennett, board member of the Action Surface Rights group.
“We have a problem with Redwater. There’s about 1,800 suspended, abandoned or inactive wells sitting there, with no timeline for reclamation so they could be there for forty or fifty years and when Redwater says you don’t legally have to pay to reclaim them, the company is obviously going to walk away.”
The Action Surface Rights Association, which is an organization of landowners dedicated to helping others dealing with government and industry processes within the energy sectors, have spent a lot of time providing help not only cleaning up abandoned well sites but also advocating for the landowners burdened with these wells after they have been left in un-safe and un-sufficient manners by larger corporations.
The Redwater ruling, which was made back in 2016, has been a topic of conversation for not only the Action Surface Rights Group since its enactment but also to farmers across the province that see these abandoned wells on their property as they can cause a multitude of problems to the land-owners themselves including contamination, sour gas and forfeited bills.
“A lot of these wells aren’t left in good shape,” says Bennett. “Farmers have to keep farming around the area with risks of contamination to their crops or noxious weeds as well as landowners seeing breach of leases and bills not paid by the contractor that then lands on them.”
Bennett added these are just some of the reasons that landowners are experiencing problems with the ruling. He explains the status quo needs to change as far as taking ownership for these sometimes-hazardous wells.
However, Bennett does agree that in such an economic downturn, asking oil companies to pay out billions to cover costs is not a feasible plan, yet he stresses that something has to change to shift the responsibility and burden off of the landowners who are not being respected throughout this process.
With the numbers of abandoned or inactive wells raising dramatically over the past three years as oil prices have fallen, creditors and environmentalists have pitted against one and other to strain their views on protecting the land versus protecting the operators that have become victims to the economic downturn.
However, with the turmoil still playing out the case is now set to see an appeal by thousands of landowners across the province in front of the Supreme Court on Feb. 15, with the Action Surface Rights Association being granted their own right to intervene during this appeal.
“The University of Calgary law clinic is doing a lot of our legal work for us, and most of it had been pro-bono because it’s a public interest matter, and we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this or get this far without their help,” added Bennett of the Surface Rights Association’s role in this situation.

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