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Alberta - June 1, 2020

Think back to the last time you moved; did you enter your new home to find it spick and span or did the previous residents leave a mess behind? 

Some solar energy companies in Alberta are opting to move their panels to sites that were previously occupied by oil and gas companies instead of leasing new land. However, unlike the former owner of your home, who may have left garbage and an old dresser in the basement, Alberta’s oil and gas companies are responsible for dealing with any contamination on the site before solar moves in.

While the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) isn’t responsible for approving the installation of solar panels or regulating solar power, the agency is responsible for ensuring the site is properly reclaimed and prepared for alternative use.

“We’re pleased when we see land that has already been disturbed being reused for another industrial purpose,” says Corey Zadko, the AER’s manager for Enterprise Reclamation. “It is always better to reuse an area that has already been disturbed instead of creating a new disturbance.”

For a solar company to install a panel at an abandoned oil and gas site, a few things must be considered:

Assessing the Conditions

The first step the current resident (the oil and gas licensee) must take is to determine if the site is contaminated by completing the required environmental site assessments. If contamination is found, the licensee must remediate the site. Once it’s determined that there is no more contamination, the licensee then must decide if the site will be reclaimed, and apply for a reclamation certificate through the AER.

Reclaiming the Land

The oil and gas company may choose to fully reclaim the land by replacing all the soil and planting vegetation that matches the surrounding land before applying for a reclamation certificate. However, this isn’t always necessary. 

In some cases, a full site reclamation may not be called for as the solar company would only have to turn around and undo the work that was done to reclaim the site when it installs its panels. In these situations, the AER can issue a reclamation certificate under requirements from the 2010 Reclamation Criteria for Wellsites and Associated Facilities

Once a reclamation certificate is in place, the solar company becomes the new “homeowner” with full responsibility for the site, including tidying it up. 

Although solar power is regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission, the AER plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the oil and gas company of an inactive well properly checks out to make way for the new company moving in.

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