Backwoods Energy Services begins oil well rehabilitation in Alberta

Backwoods energy, alberta, oil

Reclamation and abandonment activities will take place at 56 well sites on Enoch Cree Nation

Backwoods Energy Services has started oil well reclamation work associated with the Alberta Department of Energy’s Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP). 

The program will allow Backwoods to employ Indigenous workers and carry out abandonment activities on suspended and abandoned oil and gas sites in Alberta.

Backwoods, one of the largest Indigenous-owned businesses in Canada, began the SRP project in early July, marking a significant step in the acceleration of reclamation activities on an initial 56 well sites on Enoch Cree Nation lands on the western edge of Edmonton.  

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“Many well sites on our Nation’s lands were drilled in the 1950s and are in need of remediation and reclamation work, which would not be possible without this program’s support,” said Chief Billy Morin of Enoch Cree Nation. 

“Returning our land to its natural state will make way for more viable use into the future.”

As well, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and Backwoods Energy Services have nominated multiple well sites on Alexis Whitecourt Reserve #232 for closure through future periods of the Site Rehabilitation Program.

“The SRP provides important initial funding to cleanup well sites throughout the Province of Alberta, including within Alexis Traditional Territory,” said Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, which owns a majority stake in Backwoods. 

“Backwoods’ partnership with Enoch Cree Nation for the SRP is a leading example of Indigenous communities collaboratively working together to preserve the land for generations.”

Economic recovery

Alberta’s $1 billion SRP includes appointing an Indigenous liaison to help facilitate First Nations participation in the program, and establish an ongoing working group with Indigenous communities and companies.

“First Nations must be a part of Alberta’s economic recovery from the COVID recession. The billion-dollar Site Rehabilitation Program is an important part of the Alberta Recovery Plan. It will create thousands of jobs, and help to save energy service companies during this crisis in the oil and gas industry,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. 

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure that Indigenous Albertans participate in this program, as workers, contractors and by cleaning up abandoned wells on First Nations Reserves.”

Oilfield services included in the SRP will apply to infrastructure such as wellsite abandonment, pipeline abandonment, pipeline segment removal and facility abandonment. Environmental work within the program will include activities such as site assessments, remediation and reclamation.


At sites with minimal environmental impacts, remediation efforts will require the removal of only a few truckloads of soil. However, in the case of the larger impacted areas, clean-up efforts may involve more than 10,000 cubic metres of soil. 

Each well will required between 448 man-hours of labour to more than 1,600 man-hours for more complex sites.

“The amount of soil that will require remediation will vary from site to site depending on the extent of contamination,” said Ryan McQuilter, chief operating officer for Backwoods Energy Services. 

“This will be determined by the Phase II ESA activities, which involve the installation of test pits, boreholes and monitoring wells to determine the volume of impacted soil or groundwater.”

Abandonment plan 

The project began with the development of an abandonment plan to identify issues within the various wells that could lead to potential leaks and to identify all oil or gas formations and all groundwater zones that the well passes through. 

“Next, the inside of the wellbore is cleaned to remove any oil or gas that could cause it to corrode or could cause the cement plugs that will be inserted into the well to leak,” McQuilter said. 

“In addition, all oil or gas formations must be isolated from one another with cement plugs, and any groundwater zones must be isolated from the wellbore to make sure that no oil, gas or water can travel up the wellbore and contaminate soil or groundwater. The well is filled with nonsaline water or other noncorrosive fluid and assessed to ensure there are no leaks.”

Then, the well casing is cut to a minimum of 1 metre below the surface and a vented cap is placed on top of the well casing.  Surface-level infrastructure associated with the well is removed.

Site assessment

Before reclamation begins, an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is completed to determine the historical activities that occurred at the site and determine locations with potential environmental impacts.

‘The Phase 2 ESA is then completed to determine the presence/absence of contamination and delineate the extent of any soil or groundwater contamination in the subsurface,” McQuilter said. 

“In the event of contamination, site remediation occurs to either address in place or remove the contaminated soil/water to an appropriate landfill.”

All work within the SRP program must be completed by December 31, 2022.  

McQuilter explained that  each individual well site will have its own time line for completion, depending on site condition. 

About Backwoods Energy

Backwoods Energy Services is a service provider for utilities, forestry and oil and gas companies in western Canada. Based out of Edmonton, and winner of the 2019 Waterstone Most Admired Corporate Culture Award in Canada, Backwoods has been in operation for more than 30 years. 

The company was acquired by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in 2015. 

“Our projects range from a couple weeks with a small crew to large multi-year projects with over 100 people,” McQuilter said.