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'We think about the people of Wheatley every day': Province commits millions to capping old wells

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The province has confirmed it remains committed to capping historic oil and gas wells across Ontario.

In Lambton County Wednesday, the minister of natural resources and forestry announced the next chapter with a $7.5 million fund.

“That’s why I am here today, to announce the second year funding, of $2.5 million, as part of our efforts to help municipalities reduce risks posed by these wells and to strengthen emergency preparedness,” said Minister of Natural Resources Graydon Smith.

The latter point is a concern for politicians at all levels.

They are acutely aware that an abandoned well set off the 2021 explosion in Wheatley.

A news conference to announce provincial funding to help identify and cap legacy oil and gas wells was held in Lambton County on June 12, 2024. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

The blast injured more than 20 people.

“We think about the people of Wheatley every day when we are doing this work,” said Smith. “We want to make sure that the investments that we’ve made there, and that the lessons that have been learned there, get applied.”

One of those lessons is the monumental task ahead.

Officials estimate there are 25,000 to 50,000 abandoned legacy oil and gas wells in the province.

But finding them – all – will be a challenge.

“We do not really know where most of the old wells are,” conceded Dawn-Euphemia Fire Chief Don Ewing.

Dawn-Euphemia Fire Chief Don Ewing, seen on June 12, 2024. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

Smith is confident Wednesday’s announcement will begin to address the shortfall, “At the municipal level, it’s an opportunity for them to spend dollars on what’s important for them, whether that’s training for officials or buying a particular piece of equipment.”

Guelph Fire Chief Brian Arnold serves as a spokesperson for the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.

He told CTV News London the announcement is ‘a good start.’

“The technologies have been in the market for a number of years. It is a matter of affordability for 400 plus municipalities across the province to purchase the equipment,” said Arnold.

The $7.5 million education and equipment program will run alongside a legacy oil and gas well-capping fund.

Smith said it will receive an additional $6 million this year.

Active and decommissioned oil and gas wells in Dawn-Euphemia Township are seen on June 12, 2024. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

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