Statement on the Supreme Court of Canada Ruling on the Alberta Orphan Well Association Appeal

Edmonton, Alta. – With its ruling today, the Supreme Court of Canada has rightfully put the health of our environment ahead of banks. Companies cannot shed their environmental liabilities in order to pay banks back first. This ruling is a win for all Canadians, as there are massive outstanding environmental liabilities in many sectors, not just oil and gas.

It is clear now that even in bankruptcy, corporations that have made significant environmental messes in Canada are responsible for cleaning them up. They won’t be able to continue walking away from the environmental destruction and pollution they cause, leaving it for citizens to clean up.

This ruling upholds a long standing Canadian value of responsibility. Corporations that have made billions of dollars extracting our natural resources must return the land to its natural state when they are finished. It is grossly unfair that companies in Canada that profit off our resources for years are able to leave behind hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, thereby making the Canadian public responsible for the cleanup. Today’s ruling restores the responsibility where it rightfully belongs – with the companies that create the mess.

However, cautious optimism is warranted, as this ruling does not indicate how the cleanup costs for environmental liabilities will be fully covered. If the sale of assets does not fully cover the cost of remediation to the oil wells, then it is likely that Alberta’s Orphan Well Association (OWA) will have to cover those costs. The OWA was created to specifically deal with the cleanup costs for wells that have no legal ownership and raises funds through a levy on industry. However, in 2017, it only raised $32 million and only $22 million in 2018. With more than $100 billion in estimated cleanup costs for oil and gas production sites, new government regulations are needed to ensure that environmental cleanup costs are fully covered before a company faces bankruptcy.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Allen Braude, Environmental Defence; 416-356-2587; [email protected]