CBC – Billions at stake as banks, energy regulator head to Supreme Court. Case will decide who’s on the hook for environmental cleanup when companies go bust

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear a case this week that could determine whether toxic industrial sites across the country are cleaned up when a company goes bankrupt.

Billions of dollars in cleanup costs are at stake as banks seek assurances they aren’t stuck with massive environmental bills, provincial governments hope environmental rules are followed and farmers worry they may be left with contaminated land from abandoned oil and gas wells. For communities dotted with orphaned wells, this isn’t just a legal debate.

These wells can affect people’s farmland for years, said Daryl Bennett, a surface rights advocate who farms in southern Alberta. One farmer he knows has had a well in the reclamation process for roughly two decades.

“We can still walk across this field [and] pick up a five-gallon bucket full of oil-soaked clods of dirt,” he said.

…. The case will address a fundamental public policy dilemma about what happens when a resource company bites the dust.

For instance, every mine in the country has environmental regulations attached to its licence about reclaiming the site when the mine closes. But if the company goes belly up, does the bank take over those end-of-life responsibilities? If not, is the site abandoned or do taxpayers pick up the hefty tab?

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