Ontario invests in capping old gas wells to prevent another Wheatley disaster

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Wheatley explosion
The three wells in connection with the Wheatley blast have since been plugged and capped. An investigation revealed that gas came up through basement drains and was ignited by an appliance. Photo Credit: letstalkchatham-kent.ca

Ontario is investing $23.6 million to develop a province-wide strategy that includes identifying and capping old oil and gas wells to prevent petroleum-related emergencies in the future.

In 2021, the Chatham-Kent community of Wheatley faced such an emergency, when a hydrogen sulphide leak led to an explosion from underneath a former commercial building. An additional $2.5 million is allocated through this new funding to assist with costs associated with the explosion’s emergency management and fallout.

“This investment represents the first step in our government’s action plan to address the challenges and risks old oil and gas wells pose to communities across Ontario,” announced Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, in a statement. “With this funding, Chatham-Kent and other affected municipalities will be able to help keep their communities safe and prevent petroleum-related emergencies in the future.”

Ontario has already invested more than $25 million to support the Wheatley investigation, recovery and monitoring, as well as support for eligible businesses and residents who were evacuated from their homes. Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff issued a statement noting that the latest assistance funding will contribute to the “healing of our community and protection of the environment.” 

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The 2021 Wheatley explosion was captured on security camera footage. The three wells in connection with the blast have since been plugged and capped. An investigation revealed that gas came up through basement drains and was ignited by an appliance.

In late 2022, a group of residents and businesses in Wheatley filed a $100-million proposed class action lawsuit over the explosion.

Former Chatham-Kent-Leamington MP Dave Epp led a meeting in the summer of 2022 to push the provincial government forward towards a renewed plan to address the approximately 27,000 oil and gas wells identified on record, primarily on private land in southwestern Ontario.

Epp told reporters at the meeting that there are another estimated 6,000 wells with unknown locations.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry administers the Abandoned Works Program, which supports the plugging of inactive oil and gas wells that are at heightened risk to public safety or the environment by providing financial assistance to eligible landowners. To date, this program has spent $29.5 million to plug 415 wells across the province.

Two years ago, the federal government announced $1.7 billion for remediation of orphaned and abandoned wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

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