Indigenous communities secure $100M to clean up oil and gas wells

Indigenous leaders have secured an allotment of funding to clean up old oil and gas wells on First Nation and Métis land in Alberta, after more than half a year of lobbying, including several meetings with the premier and energy minister.

The provincial government has agreed to set aside a total of $100 million for reclamation work, which is the amount the Indian Resource Council (IRC) had originally requested in the spring.

The funding comes from the federal government, which announced in the spring it would provide $1.5 billion to clean up aging oil and gas infrastructure in Western Canada. The funding was meant to stimulate the oilfield service sector while reducing the environmental risk from the old wells.

Indigenous leaders were concerned none of the cash would be spent cleaning up their land, so they asked for a portion of the funds to be set aside by the provincial governments, which are in charge of dispersing the federal money.

Initially, the Alberta government balked at the request, although it was open to working with Indigenous leaders. Now, Indigenous leaders are hopeful this could set a precedent for similar large funding programs.

“It was really gratifying to see that this provincial government is prepared to work with the First Nation communities here in Alberta,” said Stephen Buffalo, president of the IRC, which represents more than 100 First Nations with oil and gas reserves.

“It sure took some time, but we just kept giving them a reason not to say no. To me, it just made a lot of sense.”

The federal money was divided between B.C. ($120 million), Alberta ($1 billion) and Saskatchewan ($400 million).

The IRC was requesting that each province allocate 10 per cent of the federal money it receives to First Nations, which would represent about $150 million in total. 

In Alberta, $85 million will be set aside for reclamation work on First Nations land and $15 million toward Métis land. 

Local communities will have control over which oil and gas sites are cleaned up.

“Absolutely. They’re in the best position to understand what’s on their land and which are the priority wells,” said Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Savage said the money will be dispersed during a specific phase of the program that will exclusively apply to First Nations and Métis lands.

In Saskatchewan, Indigenous-owned service companies have received $1.5 million through 10 different projects, while $3.4 million in contracts have been issued for work on First Nations, according to Robin Speer, spokesperson for the energy department.

“Discussions continue with First Nations and Métis communities and leaders to ensure that there is meaningful Indigenous participation in the Accelerated Site Closure Program,” said Speer, in an emailed statement.

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