Two-tiered Alberta: Urban, but not rural, home owners and businesses get inspections and protections from leaking abandoned energy wells and stratigraphic test holes: St. Albert residents sitting on abandoned oil and gas wells

St. Albert residents sitting on abandoned oil and gas wells by Viola Pruss, March 16, 2013, St Albert Gazette
Several St. Albert residents whose properties are on or near and abandoned oil and gas wells have been contacted by Imperial Oil about tests to be done on their land. The oil company and Coun. Cam MacKay say the tests are strictly precautionary and that homeowners have no reason to fear for their health or property values.

Chris Harroun, a resident of Acorn Crescent in Akinsdale, received a letter from Imperial Oil this month that said an abandoned well or stratigraphic test well (strat hole) may be located on or near his property. arroun is to meet a company employee on Wednesday to discuss an inspection of his property. “They will meet with us and my neighbours,” he said. “From what I understand, they have to go every square metre and probe for methane and do a little background check.”

Abandoned wells are inactive oil or gas wells that were shut down or cut off one or two metres below the ground.

Strat holes were drilled in the 1940s and 1950s to obtain information on the possible exploitation of gas resources. They were usually less than 500 metres in depth but typically never produced or encountered gas and were quickly abandoned.

Harroun said he is worried that his property will now lose some of its worth, and will be hard to sell to future buyers.

He learned from the Energy Resources Conservation Board website that he is not the only person in St. Albert whose property sits on an abandoned well. Imperial Oil alone has about four or five different sites around town.

“I am just wondering why this was never told to us two or three years ago when we bought this place,” he said.

MacKay said there are about 10 to 15 abandoned well sites in St. Albert. A few more are located in farmer fields around the city and in the Kingswood Park area. … “It’s just a precautionary measure. It’s a wise decision by the province to get all the oil companies to go out and check these things,” he said. “But if you can’t smell anything [methane rising to surface or contaminating groundwater has no odour ] and you haven’t had any serious problems … it’s been so long since there’s been oil activity in St. Albert. If you don’t have a problem now you probably never will.” 

MacKay said the Alberta government and the ERCB created a program in 2012 directing oil and gas companies to inspect abandoned wells and stratigraphic test wells close to residential, commercial and industrial properties in urban areas. [What about the hundreds of thousands of abandoned wells and stratigraphic test holes in rural Alberta?]

In 2012 Alberta Municipal Affairs also introduced amendments to the Subdivision and Development Regulations. The amendments require developers and property owners applying for a subdivision or development permit to identify the location of abandoned wells during planning and to appropriately address them in the proposed development.

Harroun and his neighbours probably won’t be the only ones who will be contacted, MacKay added. And if the companies don’t find anything, the worth of homes should not be affected. [Not finding leaking methane now doesn’t mean the problem won’t arise in the future]

“What happened in Alberta over the years is that the cities have grown and spread out. They are starting to expand on areas that had old gas well sites and there can be some problems,” he said. “So now the oil and gas companies have to go back and test the integrity of the abandoned wells.” 

The letter from Imperial Oil to Harroun said “there is no indication that either (abandoned or stratigraphic test) wells pose any risk to the public.”

“However, to provide assurance for those living or working nearby, the ERCB is initiating a proactive assessment of these wells.”

Anyone looking for more information or a map of abandoned well sites in St. Albert can find these at the Conservation Board’s website ( under Directive 079: Surface Development in Proximity to Abandoned Wells.

Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, Coun. Cam MacKay referred to homes exploding in Devon because of an insecure gas well. In fact, the problem was a leaking natural gas well in Calmar. No homes exploded. [But homes were torn down and families relocated at significant stress and loss] [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

No reason to fear for one’s health or property?

No risk to the public?

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1993 Husky on how serious and big a problem industrys gas migration is Slide from Ernst presentations

1985 Dress for Less Explosion Slide from Ernst Presentations

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2012 05 30 You tube of March 24, 1985 Dress for Less leaking industry's methane caused explosion snap4

2012 05 30 You tube of March 24, 1985 Dress for Less leaking industry's methane caused explosion snap3

2012 05 30 You tube of March 24, 1985 Dress for Less leaking industry's methane caused explosionScreen grabs below of Benita Harris

1985 Ross Dress for Less Explodes Youtube snap 7 burn injury face Benita Harris

1985 Ross Dress for Less Explodes Youtube snap 8 another burn victim Diana LopezMore than 20-30 stores were evacuated because of risk of explosion from industry’s leaking methane.

“We’re getting very high readings along the perimeter of the bank.”

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Above snap from FrackingCanada

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