Advisory Land Use Planning Notes On Abandoned Well Sites

Introduction

These planning notes provide information to municipal officials, planners, and development officers on how to accommodate abandoned oil or gas wells within areas where development, subdivision, or construction may occur. This information should be considered when preparing municipal development plans, other statutory plans, and/or land use bylaws. It will also assist in evaluating development permits and subdivision applications, and in planning municipal works that may require excavation near abandoned well sites. This information is based on a 1996 draft guideline produced by the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).

The Issue

The location of oil and gas wells that are being drilled or are in production is evident, both from the surface and through a notation on the land title. Abandonment of an oil and gas well occurs by rendering the well incapable of flow and placing a cap over the casing approximately one metre below the surface. After surface reclamation is complete and a certificate is issued by Alberta Environment, the well site lease notation may be removed from the title. At this point, there is nothing visible on the surface or on the title to indicate the presence of an abandoned well.

The ERCB has established well site abandonment procedures that ensure public safety. Abandoned wells rarely require maintenance but adequate access to the site needs to be maintained in case it is necessary. In addition, the casing and cap do represent a risk to excavation and construction equipment.

The ERCB has suggested the appropriate setbacks from abandoned well sites for municipalities to use to meet requirements for both well site access and equipment safety. Abandoned well sites affect the suitability of land for development. Municipal efforts to incorporate these abandoned well site setbacks in planning, development, and construction decisions will assist in meeting planning responsibilities.

Obtaining Abandoned Well Site Records
When well abandonment is completed, the licensee notifies the ERCB of the abandonment location and other pertinent details. Listings of abandoned well locations by legal parcel and coordinates can be obtained for a nominal fee by contacting ERCB Information Services (telephone (403) 297-8190). The ERCB has relatively complete records for wells abandoned since January 1, 1945. The records for a small number of wells drilled prior to this time are not complete. In areas where wells drilled prior to 1945 are located, the ERCB may be able to provide information on how these sites were abandoned and advise on setbacks or other measures that are required to avoid potential conflict.

Information on surface reclamation standards and procedures can be obtained from Alberta Environment. Information on specific reclamation certificates on private land can be obtained from the Environmental Law Centre. Alberta One Call does not have information with respect to abandoned wells.

Setbacks from Abandoned Well Sites

The ERCB recommends a setback consisting of a 10 metre by 15 metre work area surrounding the abandoned well. The setback boundaries should be established so that the well is no less than 5 metres from the setback boundary. An 8 metre access to this setback area is also needed. The setback and access area are illustrated in Figure One.

The setback is to allow for maintenance of the well site to occur, to protect the well site, and to avoid damage to any construction or excavation equipment that may be used in construction of buildings or utilities on the site.

Abandoned well sites and the associated setback and access areas can be incorporated into subdivision and development proposals. Possible surface land uses that incorporate abandoned well sites include boulevards, road allowances, golf courses, parking lots, open storage areas, parks, open space, and playing fields. Identification of abandoned well sites will help in determining an effective subdivision design, the location of building sites, siting of underground utilities, and grading of land.

Applications for Subdivision, Development and Construction

Where a development is planned, a search should be conducted for abandoned wells in the vicinity of the proposed development area. At the time of excavation and servicing, a temporary identification marker should be placed as precisely as possible on the abandoned well site to prevent damage both to the well site and to construction or excavation equipment. If the municipal approving authority believes that an abandoned well site could be within an area proposed for subdivision, development or construction, the applicant should provide the following information:

  • a listing of the abandoned well sites including the coordinates, 
  • identification of abandoned well site locations and the necessary setback area on the sketch accompanying the application,
  • if the application will result in construction, a statement confirming that the abandoned well sites are marked with onsite identification.

Special Circumstances

Generally, referral of applications to the ERCB is not necessary. When asked, the ERCB will comment on land use proposals where:

  • A land use proposal seeks to establish separation distances from abandoned wells smaller than those recommended in these notes.
  • A site is affected by one or more wells abandoned before January 1, 1945. The ERCB may be able to provide information on the procedures used for the abandonment of such wells and may be able to advise if additional planning measure should be considered to avoid potential conflicts.
  • The proponent or the planning authority believes that one or more wells may have been abandoned in the affected area since the most recent publication of the abandoned well listing.
  • The proponent or the planning authority believes that the ERCB should be consulted because of relevant special characteristics of the land use proposal.

 

Further Information
For more information, please contact

Energy Resources and Conservation Board
Suite 1000, 250 5th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 0R4
Telephone: 403-297-8311
Facsimile: 403-297-7040
email: Inquiries@ercb.ca

Alberta Municipal Affairs
Municipal Services Branch
17th Floor, 10155 102 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4L4
Telephone: 780-427-2225
Facsimile: 780-420-1016
email: lgsmail@gov.ab.ca
Alberta Environment
Environmental Sciences Division
4th Floor Oxbridge Place
9820 106 Street 
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2J6
Telephone: 780-427-5883
Facsimile: 780-422-4192
Email: land.management@gov.ab.ca
Reclamation certificates on private land:
Environmental Law Centre
#204, 10709 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3N3
Telephone: 780-424-5099
Facsimile: 780-424-5133