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Abandoned Works Program offers funding to plug oil, gas wells

Old wells ‘can present significant environmental and public safety hazards’


Do you have an abandoned oil or gas well on your property? You may be able to access funding from the province to plug it.


“The Abandoned Works Program is available to Ontarians to cover the costs associated with oil and gas (petroleum) well plugging, should a well be hazardous to the public and or the environment,” explained Sarah Fig, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.


It may be tempting to just ignore an abandoned oil or gas well, but that could be risky.

“An unplugged well, when not actively in use and maintained safely, can present significant environmental and public safety hazards,” Fig said.


“Without proper plugging, wells can release methane, a potent gas, and other harmful substances into the atmosphere, as well as nearby soil and water sources, including highly toxic gases like hydrogen sulphide. This may cause air and water pollution, contaminate drinking water, and pose risks to human life, including the potential for explosions or fires.”

According to the Province of Ontario website, signs to identify a leaking well include:

  • Fluid – You may see soil staining and damage to vegetation caused by pools of liquid.

  • Hydrogen sulphide – If you notice a rotten egg smell, that could be hydrogen sulphide being released from the well; this is a poisonous gas.

  • Sinking ground – If you notice the ground dipping or sinking over or around a well, that could indicate something’s amiss.


Fig explained that any oil or gas well may qualify for the Abandoned Works Program, so long as an active operator cannot be identified for the well (other than the landowner) and the applicant hasn’t used, benefited from, or intentionally tampered with the well.

However, even if a landowner doesn’t qualify for the Abandoned Works Program, they’re still required to plug the oil or gas well(s) on their property, under the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act.


“The well should be plugged immediately. The landowner can apply for a well licence for the purposes of plugging the well,” Fig said.


It’s important to note that not complying with the regulations regarding decommissioning oil and gas wells can lead to penalties; these might include fines and court-imposed orders for any environmental damage or public safety hazards stemming from an unplugged well.


Nevertheless, it’s also important to note, “Before these actions are taken, the ministry makes every effort to work with landowners cooperatively to address these issues,” Fig said.


As important as it is to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, it can be dangerous work.

“A resident should not do work on a well on their own,” Fig said. “The process of capping a well in Ontario requires a rig to enter the well for cleaning out and pumping in cement plugs from bottom of the well to the top. It is a specialized process requiring trained crews and suitable equipment due to hazards with working around petroleum wells.”


While a number of abandoned oil and gas wells have already been plugged, province-wide, there are still 11,837 known abandoned wells, Fig said.


Just under a fifth of that total are in Haldimand County, which has 2,572. Across the rest of the region, Norfolk County has 1,386; Welland County, 890; Lincoln County, 218; Brant County, 175; and Brantford, 18.


More information as to where these wells are located is available on the public version of the province’s petroleum well spatial dataset, on the Ontario GeoHub website at geohub.lio.gov.on.ca; this is updated weekly.


The Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Library, which according to its website (ogsrlibrary.com) “is a not-for-profit resource centre for the study of the subsurface geology, petroleum, salt and underground hydrocarbon storage resources of Ontario,” is also a resource the public can access.


For more information about the Abandoned Works Program, including how to apply, visit ontario.ca/page/abandoned-works-program. 

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