Drilling to the Bottom of the Orphan Well Problem: Suggestions for a Better Regulatory Framework for Preventing and Remediating Orphaned Oil Wells in British Columbia

  • Holly Stewart


When an oil firm goes bankrupt, its non-productive oil wells are classified as “orphans” and must be plugged and remediated by provincial regulatory bodies. The number of orphan oil wells has increased significantly in the western oil-producing provinces in the past several years. This paper examines the scope of the orphan well problem in British Columbia, policy tools used to address orphan wells in other jurisdictions, and shortcomings of British Columbia’s current regulatory framework. It considers the intersection of bankruptcy law and orphan well remediation recently addressed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Orphan Well Association v Grant Thornton Ltd, 2019 SCC 5, and makes the argument for upfront environmental bonds despite the strong environmental stance taken in that decision.