Seek information before participating in new pilot program on well site leases

Jasen Aussant & Shannon Sereda, Policy, Government Relations & Markets

In December 2023, Alberta Environment and Protected Areas (EPA) announced a pilot project to allow site reductions on well site leases for the completion of partial reclamation. Effective March 2024, well site operators will be able to approach landowners to participate in the pilot, enabling them to apply to decrease the size of a surface lease area by undertaking reclamation activities.

While the pilot project is voluntary and currently requires landowner consent, some farmers are concerned that the pilot could result in permanent policy changes and will have drawbacks for farmers such as reductions in lease payments to landowners without removing the structural hazards and risks associated with well sites on farmland. If enshrined in legislation, it is unclear if landowner consent would be required to make changes to lease sites in the future.

The directive

Current rules dictate that an entire well site must be removed and the lease land returned to its original state before the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issues a reclamation certificate to confirm the well site meets government reclamation standards. This can include removal of above ground structural hazards, capping underground pipes, cleaning contamination, replacing soil and re-vegetation of the area.

The pilot is an attempt to test if this process would be a useful way to reduce red tape in reclaiming well sites by addressing reclamation application backlogs for operators.

Under the pilot program, the AER will be allowed to certify that a portion of a well site meets government reclamation standards. The pilot project is restricted to operators under the eligibility criteria found in the directive issued by EPA, and while it is a voluntary program and limited to 100 sites, concerns loom regarding the information available to farmers to obtain their required written consent if leaseholders, who benefit from the directive, are charged with enlisting sites with little oversight from EPA.

The pilot program is set to run for 18 months, from March 20, 2024 to Sept. 18, 2025 Landowner considerations Through this pilot, lease sizes may be reduced by up to 60 per cent of the original surface leases if applications are successful.

Landowner considerations

Through this pilot, lease sizes may be reduced by up to 60 per cent of the original surface leases if applications are successful. There are a number of criteria to be met through the directive, such as requiring that the well site continues to be large enough to allow for the continuation of certain activities, without disturbing the reclaimed area. There is also a minimum 20 metre setback from any edges of the new lease boundary to the well head, and any further servicing, abandonment and decommissioning activities must occur on the reduced area without requiring temporary workspace.

The Alberta EPA says the pilot program will not affect the legal authority of surface lease agreements between landowners and operators under the Surface Rights Act, nor change the right of a person under the Responsible Energy Development Act to submit a written statement of concern about a reclamation certificate application. Nonetheless, groups like the Wheatland & Area Surface Rights Society (WAASRS) say there is a cause for concern.

Hannah Konschuh, a farmer near Cluny, AB and a director with WAASRS, cautions, "there can be significant drawbacks for landowners associated with participation in this pilot project, which was created without any farmer/landowner consultation.” Konschuh and WAASRS urge farmers to say no to the pilot for site reduction and to share concerns with them. 

If you would like to share your concerns, click here

The group outlined their concerns regarding a lack of governance, consultation and oversight and the allowance of energy companies to look for lease payment reductions from landowners while leaving above ground hazards in place along with risk, liability and inconvenience for farmers.

There are also concerns that this pilot program could lead to increased trespassing beyond lease boundaries — as was seen when partial reclamations were last attempted and ultimately halted in 2001 — and an increase in red tape, since every site would require multiple reclamation applications, potentially leading to a lack of full reclamation.

Farmers should remember the pilot program is completely voluntary and are encouraged to seek out additional information and weigh the risks and benefits of participating in the pilot if approached by operators. Concerns or questions related to the pilot can be directed to the Farmers Advocate Office at 403-310-FARM (3276) or by contacting Alberta Grains.

WAASRS can provide support to farmers in and outside of their county. Email


Interim Directive Pilot for Site Reductions on Well Sites

Pilot for Site Reductions on Well Sites Information for Landowners about the Pilot Project