The recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling which requires bankrupt oil companies to be held responsible for cleaning up inactive oil wells, is a welcome decision.
When companies file for bankruptcy protection, paying off creditors was usually the only order of business. Now monies need to be committed to cleaning up their mess left out in the field.
“Bankruptcy is not a licence to ignore rules,” the court said in its written decision.
Although this was a ruling affecting the energy industry in Alberta, this is good news for landowners across the country. Often, they are left with disregarded oil wells or other sources of energy production that has the potential of causing environmental pollution. How well this will play out is yet to be seen.
Over the decades there have been other industries that are also required to “clean up” once contracts or licences expire. Both the quarry and gravel pit industry and the newer wind energy industry also have requirements to take action once production comes to a stop.
Rehabilitating gravel pits and quarries are part of the licence granted to companies, and when the licence expires, these companies are required to rehabilitate the area to simulate what it originally was. There are many examples of good projects here: quarries and gravel pits are made into usable areas again. One example is the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario, a favourite place for people to take a leisurely stroll or for wedding pictures. This rehabilitation project began in 1929 and continues to be a pristine location.
Another example is Professor’s Lake in Brampton, Ontario. The lake was extracted for sand and gravel by several aggregate companies for 50 years. The 26-hectare lake is surrounded by residential, recreational lands, beaches and water sports. The spring-fed lake is used extensively for sailing, windsurfing, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. This lake has turned the area into a residential area that people can enjoy almost year round.
There are other examples where there is agriculture occurring on what were gravel pits in the past. This land now produces hay and corn, proving that taking resources from the ground does not always leave the land unprofitable post-quarry use.
Time will tell what will become of the areas currently being used for wind energy. According to one of our members who has wind turbines on his farm, his contract with the energy company has specific requirements at the end of the contract for cleanup of the wind turbines. The company is required to dismantle the turbine and tower and remove a certain amount of the base and replace the topsoil. The energy company is to put aside money for this removal process.
When there is a will for cleanup, there is a way. As society continues to move to other sources of energy, we need to have a will to properly end some of the former sources of energy. Industries and companies that are moving on to other sources of revenue and have profited from Canadian consumers should be held accountable for not leaving unused equipment or property left behind.
Paul Bootsma is field services manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy.