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Alberta wants to keep $137M in unused federal funding to clean up more oil and gas sites in Indigenous communities

First Nations chiefs and the Alberta government are asking for $137 million in unused federal funding to be allocated to continue work to clean up inactive oil and gas sites.

The unused funding is part of the Site Rehabilitation Program, which provides grants to oil field service contractors for well, pipeline, and oil and gas site closure and reclamation work. The federal government allocated $1 billion to Alberta as part of the program, with $133.3 million dedicated to cleanup in Indigenous communities.

“This program has not only played a pivotal role in revitalizing our lands, but has also created opportunities for Indigenous contractors and First Nations across the region,” said Chief Cody Thomas of Enoch Cree Nation.

“With 36 Indigenous-led contractors and over 550 subcontractors contributing their skills and expertise to the restoration of our lands across the province.”

Since work began in 2020, closure work was completed on 1,824 inactive well sites and over 5,000 acres of land in Indigenous communities, according to Rick Wilson, minister of Indigenous relations.

“(The federal government) allowed these companies and operators to operate in a way that didn’t put forward a proper bond or guarantee that they would clean up afterwards,” said Brian Jean, minister of energy and minerals.

“This program has not only been an environmental success, but has also been a catalyst for economic empowerment, providing meaningful employment and trading opportunities for our people,” added Thomas.

“Together, we can leave a lasting legacy of environmental stewardship, economic empowerment, and cultural resilience for the benefit of all of our communities and nations.”

The federal government has requested the return of the leftover funding now that the project has “timed out,” according to Jean.

“There’s (only) so many oil wells you can clean up because (of) seasons and also the available crews. So it timed out,” added Jean. “We’re just asking them to extend that, to leave it here…if the federal government is serious about reconciliation, we encourage them to release the funds so this important work can continue.”

During the program period, 34,963 applications for grant funding were approved, with 11,567 of those being from Indigenous companies, according to the Alberta government.

The leftover funding would allow for more land to be reclaimed and then used for housing, hunting and other purposes, according to Stephen Buffalo, the president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada.

“We all reap the benefits in Alberta of oil and gas… but, we can’t develop on those lands because they’re contaminated,” said Thomas. “We need to build the capacities in our nations, we need to increase the standard of living for our members.There’s so much land that we can hunt on anymore, because those animals (that) have been grazing on those lands are getting sick, and our nations aren’t growing any larger.”

CTV News Edmonton has reached out to the federal government for comment.

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