Concerns are growing over the closure plan, and associated costs, of Canadian oilsands tailing ponds. These ponds contain the waste streams generated as part of the mining process. According to The Tyee (link below), the tailings ponds cover approximately 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) in northern Alberta, and contain organic acids, benzene, lead, and fine clay particles. Cleanup costs are estimated to be up to $48 billion, with only $1.4 billion currently secured by cash reserves from the companies. If these companies go bankrupt, the Canadian taxpayers will be on the hook for the remaining cleanup costs.
Concerns over waste management and associated costs are not limited to the Canadian oilsands. Scott Energy Technologies estimates there were 55 million tons of drilling wastes generated in 2014 on U.S. land. Ensuring these wastes are managed properly should be a priority for generators and regulators alike, and although industry is currently footing the bill to manage and clean up abandoned oil and gas waste disposal sites, current funds are not sufficient to cover all necessary cleanup activity. This means that if production is cut, so is funding to clean up contaminated sites. The public did not generate these wastes, and should not be left on the hook to ensure they are managed properly. Management of E&P wastes may not be a material issue for the oil and gas industry today, but it is material to taxpayers, who may be ultimately responsible for footing the cleaning bill.