Albertan Landowners Fight to get Bankrupt Energy Companies to Clean Up Pollution Caused by Abandoned Oil Wells


In 2016 the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decided in the ‘Redwater decision’ that bankrupt energy companies could essentially abandon their oil wells. “Since [this] decision, more than 1,800 wells representing more than $100 million in liabilities have been abandoned.”

The 2016 decision has allowed energy companies to walk away from their oil well sites and all of their clean-up responsibilities. As a result, the landowner farmers who have leased the land to these companies no longer receive lease payments, and their land is polluted, rendering it unusable for agricultural purposes.

The case went to the Alberta Court of Appeal in 2017; however, the court arrived at the same decision, which established that “federal bankruptcy law takes precedence over provincial environmental rules.” A farmer in Alberta explains that “farmers in Alberta can’t legally refuse an energy company that wants to drill on their land,” and now, “the land’s not being respected, [and] the landowners aren’t being respected.” Bennett suggests that even if a company goes bankrupt, it “should have to pay for environmental clean-up.”

On February 15, 2018, the Action Surface Rights Association made up of a group of landowners will be “one of five organizations” pursuing this case further to the Supreme Court of Canada. Bennet hopes that even if the previous decisions are not overturned, that “the Supreme Court can still advise the government for changes to the current law.”