By Collin Gallant on June 30, 2017.
Medicine Hatters have long known there is natural gas beneath their feet, Mayor Ted Clugston said Thursday, but they should also know the city is ready to act when old wells become a problem.
“We are a municipality that knows what it’s doing,” said Clugston, reacting to an Alberta Energy Regulator report that states four local abandoned well-sites are among the province’s worst for methane emissions.
With a 100-year history in energy exploration, and it’s own 40-year-old well monitoring program, Medicine Hat is well-positioned.
“I can understand why people are concerned,” added Clugston. “But we are on it, we are monitoring it, and the regulator is confident in our approach.”
The full report, obtained by the News, is described as a preliminary analysis and was completed in late 2016.
It says levels of methane — a component of natural gas — are elevated to the point that Alberta Health should be measuring effects.
It further states that the wells, which could date back 100 years, can be extremely difficult to rework or close in properly.
Energy officials say they have monitored all known wells in the city since the mid-1970s, and advanced plans are now taking shape to either rework the wells, or better contain gas and possibly flare what is collected.
“I’d believe we’re state of the art in our planning,” said Brad Maynes, general manager of the city’s exploration unit, which provided data for the AER study.
“It’s an attempt to alleviate this situation with today’s technology. We are trying to find a solution, but we reiterate that from our perspective, the city is quite safe.”
Energy division reports that it actively monitors all known local wells, and only the four in question show elevated levels.
The four sites, comprising five wells, sit in the Flats, in the downtown core and the parking lot of a commercial strip on South Railway Street.
Another unlicensed well, located in a basement of a vacant South Railway Street building, was likely drilled privately at the dawn of the 20th century. It and a related relief well are legally the property of the province’s Orphan Well Association, though the city has taken a lead role managing the well.
A spokesperson with Alberta’s Ministry of Energy said the report itself shows the government’s commitment to making old well-sites safe. It has also recently increased loans to the Orphan Well program, which caps and reclaims well-sites that have no legal owner.
“We’re not afraid to tackle the big challenges that have been ignored for far too long,” read the statement.
Alberta Health has been apprised of the situation and is “reviewing the cases … to determine potential human health risks and what actions are required to protect public safety.”
The Alberta Energy Regulator said the report is a “proactive” action meant to reduce risks to the public.
It surveyed about 300 of the 1,500 identified urban well-sites in Alberta and found 36 were leaking some level of methane. Levels at the four in Medicine Hat and one in Vermillion were flagged for further study and possibly action to reduce emissions.
AER officials said this week that all are vented out of doors, “which greatly reduces” dangers.
One local well sits somewhere on or near the lot of the Fifth Avenue Memorial Church. Officials there said the presence of the well or the levels — ranging from trace amounts inside the building — haven’t affected its operations.
They consider the property safe and feel satisfied with the city’s handling of the situation.
On-site exploration to find the exact location of the historic well could be done this summer, then options explored about either reworking the well or further containing the gas.
Tests near the Woodman Avenue site found extremely high levels of methane near the surface directly above the well’s location, but officials say readings vary greatly.
According to the AER’s abandoned well registry, about 80 known sites exist within city limits. Most are licensed to the city, though some belonged to defunct companies.
The city monitors all wells not licensed to currently operating private firms.
“There are a lot of old wells in the city, some of the oldest in the province, and some are not even ours,” said Clugston. “We’re not trying to alarm the public because there is nothing to be alarmed about.”
You must be logged in to post a comment.