The BC Energy Regulator (BCER) provided an update on their activities at the Peace River Regional District’s September 14, 2023 Committee of the Whole meeting, giving directors an opportunity to ask questions about orphan well sites and ongoing restoration work.

Mike Janzen, Executive Director, Orphans and Restoration for the BCER, and Nova Williams, Director of Orphan Planning and Restoration for the BCER, co-presented to the PRRD, explaining their current framework and focus.

Dormant sites, orphan sites, and legacy sites make up the three pillars of restoration, all regulated by the BCER. 668 orphan sites are located within the PRRD, out of 819 sites in the province. 

Dormant sites are any well, pipeline, or facility still used by the operator, but haven’t met threshold of activity for five consecutive years – by law, they are required to begin restoration under BCER regulation, with the operator taking on the costs.

Legacy sites are areas where the land has historically been disturbed, but with no remaining responsibilities for restoration – First Nations and industry are typically partners with the BCER to perform restoration work in those areas, with funding provided through the province and disturbance fees collected from operators.

Sites designated as orphans happen when the operator is insolvent or cannot be located, and are brought under the jurisdiction of the BCER.

“These sites come to us in a variety of stages throughout the life cycle,” said Williams. “They could be ready for final stages of reclamation or they could have been shut in only months before.”

The BCER aims to restore orphan sites within ten years, though there are number of that have surpassed that time-frame, but are reclaimed, noted Williams.

Roughly 25 percent of sites are considered reclaimed in BC, with another 25 percent requiring additional decommissioning work, while over 75 percent of all sites within final stages of reclamation.

“We’ve made big pushes for restoration success and getting closure work done,” said Janzen, noting that notification to local government, land owners, and First Nations, is large part of their framework.

A $15 million dollar orphan levy comes from industry to fund the majority of the work, noted Williams.

The BCER is looking at completing another 376 activities this coming year on orphan sites around the province, with the majority being within the Peace. 

“There are an additional 265 sites that would be considered maintenance sites,” said Williams. “So, weed spraying, fence repairs, culvert repairs, etc. But for the most part, our funding does go towards direct activities to close sites.”

Six or seven key areas are being worked on this year near the vicinity of Fort St. John. Rigel, Stoddart, South Peace, Del Rio, Ladyfern, and Buick are also areas of focus, with agricultural landowners a factor in the restoration work.

“We’ve had a huge focus on this area – it’s more densely populated, there are a lot more landowners,” said Williams. “So, our focus has been and trained to accelerate the restoration in the direct area of Fort St. John.”

85 to 90 percent of the BCER’s prime contractors for restoration and remediation work are from the Peace Region, noted Williams, putting dollars into the local economy. A number of pilot projects are also being worked on with local First Nations, she added.

“Some of them of have environmental companies, which we are collaborating with them on a number of sites to try to build capacity within the communities,” Williams said.

Taylor Mayor Brent Taillefer said he’d like to see more communication from the BCER, so Peace residents see where the work is happening, the money being spent, and which companies are being employed for restoration.

“We don’t hear a lot of public engagement or communication with everyone, and being the BC Energy Regulator and public money, that would be nice to see more of that communication out to everyone,” he said.

Janzen agreed with Taillefer’s point, and said information on BCER activities for orphan sites is already underway, and will be available online.

“It should be available in the coming days, I would day, if not a couple weeks, is a real time list and map of where it is we’re working,” Janzen said, noting he’d like to extend it dormant sites as well.