In an incredible show of generosity to start the year, a Calgary-based artist has launched a non-profit adoption agency to help out the thousands of “orphaned” oil wells that litter the Alberta landscape.
“There is no home visit,” Alana Bartol told CBC Edmonton last week. “Actually, you are not allowed to visit your oil well. You have to sign a waiver if you’re approved.”
“At this time, it is critical to make sure that these wells receive time, attention, and care, not only for their own well-being but for the safety and health of their immediate environment including natural resources (soil and groundwater), plants, wildlife, and the humans that live near them,” states the website for Bartol’s Orphan Well Adoption Agency. The site includes a listing of available wells and an adoption form that asks applicants how long they’ve been considering adopting, what motivates them to adopt, and whether they’ve ever been an oil or gas well caretaker before.
“Adopted wells may act out during the early days of adoption causing spills or leaks from deterioration or lack of proper upkeep,” the questionnaire cautions. “Many of our wells have experienced distress from lack of care and attention. If a behavioural problem arises, what steps would you take to address it?”
Bartol is hosting adoption events at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 gallery every Saturday this month. “Attendees will be greeted by an agent and some paperwork,” CBC reports. “Approved caretakers will receive an adoption certificate and the location of a real abandoned well which has been ascribed a new nickname.”
Bartol said caretakers will also receive letters from their adopted wells, some of which are melancholic. “The letters are all different. Some of them are quite depressed or upset,” she notes. “Some are angry; some are very confused about their situation.”
The exhibit includes illustrated portraits and videos of orphan wells and detailed, hand-drawn maps of the associate service roads, CBC adds.
“We’re interested in exploring people’s connections to oil and gas and also thinking about our relationships to consumption and natural resources,” said Bartol, who teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design. “I hope that through this process it allows people to empathize with these sites.”
Alberta’s Orphan Well Association lists an inventory of 2,084 orphaned wells as of March 2017, but a quick online search shows higher numbers. All told, Alberta has nearly 450,000 abandoned oil and gas wells, representing a C$260-billion unfunded liability.