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Make oil and gas corporations pay

The Council of Canadians is excited to join the the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project (ALDP) “an independent and non-partisan initiative pushing for accurate and transparent government-level data pertaining to Alberta’s oil and gas liabilities.”

In January the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a ruling on the Redwater case, overturning earlier decisions that said the Alberta Environmental Regulator (AER) couldn’t seize assets of bankrupt companies to pay for environmental cleanup. Because our regulatory system has allowed for it, a disturbing pattern has emerged whereby extraction companies rack up huge debts, file for bankruptcy, sell their assets to the creditors, and shed any responsibility for the environmental wreckage they leave behind. January’s ruling will help break this cycle, but still leaves us with a broken regulatory system that has no way to recoup many of these environmental liabilities. Companies’ assets at bankruptcy are often not enough to cover the full costs of cleanup for their projects. 

A lot more still needs to be done to address the toxic legacy left by oil and gas in the province as we transition to a fossil fuel-free future, and this is what the ALDP is aiming to address. As the ALDP website notes: “Alberta’s oil and gas liabilities have been growing for decades, with reported estimates ranging from $58 to $260 billion. Only $1.5 billion is held in securities to protect Albertan taxpayers from the risk of being left on the hook for these costs. If the issue of backlogged and unsecured oil and gas liabilities is allowed to stay quiet, the problem will simply continue to grow, with no true transparency around its scale and scope.”

The group points out that “Long-term solutions to this problem will need to be both collaborative and practical. However, in order to find such solutions, all stakeholders must have access to accurate information about the true costs to clean up all active and inactive oil and gas infrastructure in Alberta.”

The Council of Canadians believes that oil and gas corporations – which, which according to the Global Subsidies Initiative, still receive about $3.3 billion in subsidies from the federal government – should be financially responsible for cleaning up any mess they leave. Albertans and First Nations should not be on the hook for this.

It’s clear though the Trudeau government, which promised to stop subsidizing oil and gas corporations (but hasn’t), is still focused on export-oriented trade. Climate justice demands that we address the root causes of the climate crisis, including unsustainable production, consumption and trade. Real solutions must be based on democratic accountability, ecological sustainability and social justice.

And getting polluters to truly pay for their project cleanup can go a long way in getting to the just transition towards renewable energy the climate crisis demands. That’s because if the costs of cleanup are included up front as they should be, it means most new projects will not be financially feasible in the first place, and because the cleanup itself would create thousands of good green jobs. 

As Gordon Laxer, former Council of Canadians Board member, author and activist, recently summed up in a tweet: “Stop Big Oil foisting huge toxic debt onto Albertans. Oil corps must pay to clean up orphan wells, toxic pits. Big Oil got billions from low-royalty public resources. Sign ALDP’s call for liability data. Cleanup can hire many Albertans.”

Read more about our campaign for climate justice.