Planning for the Future: Orphan Wells vs. Nuclear Decommissioning

So there was some big news in Canada a little while ago pertaining to small oil companies and the environment. On January 31, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that a company in danger of, or currently in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings must pay all environmental obligations prior to paying out creditors. This includes things like decommissioning of sites, remediation of contaminated land or water or anything equivalent.

What this means is that finally some other industries are being forced to catch up to the environmental standards that the nuclear industry has been forced to operate under for almost 50 years. Better late than never right?

Now I’m 100% behind the supreme court. Investors and creditors should never be more important than the health and wellbeing of the environment or the people that rely on the said environment, (which is all of us). But what I am even more excited about (although sadly it’s probably premature and without cause) is the idea that this is a potential first step into putting all energy production on a level playing field by enforcing decommissioning funds be set in place for every aspect of industrial construction just like they are for nuclear facilities.

88.4 meters (290 feet) of unrecyclable kevlar, glass fibre, and epoxy resin. And that’s only one out of three for a single windmill.

Currently, industries like wind, solar, and some fossil fuel portions are not required to have plans in place for decommissioning or recycling of defunct, damaged, or outdated equipment. And in the case of some parts, like windmill blades, they basically can’t be recycled. If these constructions do not plan for the full lifecycle of the infrastructure, it can end up passing the costs on to either cooperative groups like the Orphan Well Association, or even worse, onto the taxpayers when the time comes due to pay up.

I don’t know about you but I sure don’t want to be stuck with the bill for decommissioning millions of tonnes of solar and windmill waste per year.

“But we all hear about how expensive nuclear-decommissioning projects are all the time!” I hear some people cry out from the back. And I have to admit, yes nuclear-decommissioning projects are quite expensive. But, you don’t hear about them unless they are either being shut down early or have been financially mismanaged because it’s not really news to hear “everything is operating as designed and we prepared for the future by setting aside enough money to take care of our clean up.” The only ones that are actual problems are from sites built before regulations required the creation of a decommissioning fund. Things like the Hartford site in Washington state.

I’ve talked about the economics of funding and operating nuclear reactors before, but the thing I want to reinforce here is that, even with these much more preparatory environmental regulations applied on nuclear power, it’s still competitive in the market. I wonder how competitive fossil fuels and renewables will be if a more conscientious government forces everyone to stop playing with a handicap and step up to the big boys level?

To any of the parents out there reading this, you’re constantly telling your kids to pick up their mess after they are done playing right? So why have we been letting adults who should know better get away without cleaning up their messes?

We should expect Utility companies to be more responsible than 5-year-olds… Or is that just me?

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