Saskatchewan Success Story: SRC helps the Accelerated Site Closure Program Achieve Award-Winning Results

Date Posted


An oil wellhead sits in the middle of a field


During a time when a global pandemic brought industries across the world to a standstill, shuttering businesses and stymying job growth, the Government of Saskatchewan initiated a program to help get people back to work.  

On May 22, 2020, the Government of Saskatchewan launched the Accelerated Site Closure Program (ASCP) with $400 million in federal stimulus funding through Ottawa’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.  

The initiative was aimed at supporting Saskatchewan-based oil and gas service companies to conduct reclamation work on thousands of inactive oil and gas well sites across the province. 

The ASCP was a collaborative effort between the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources, the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), the Saskatchewan Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement and the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre for Excellence.  

As program manager, the Ministry of Energy and Resources says it’s proud of the way the team of government and industry stakeholders worked quickly and collaboratively to get people back to work and take advantage of this federal pandemic-relief fund. 

"This work would not have been possible without the dedication of Saskatchewan's oil and gas service sector, which stepped up to get the work done within a relatively short timeframe," Energy and Resources Minister Jim Reiter said. 

SRC helps cleanup decades of inactive, abandoned wells 

Being the western oil and gas powerhouse it is, Saskatchewan currently has 50,000 active oil and gas wells — with 1,483 new wells drilled in 2022 alone. Between 1900 and 2022, Saskatchewan had amassed a backlog of inactive and orphaned oil and gas wells.  

At the inception of the ASCP, Saskatchewan had over 35,000 inactive gas wells, over 46,000 abandoned wells and a little over 2,700 orphaned wells.  

Tasked as program administrator, SRC leaned on its experience gained from previous reclamation projects and used a procurement-based model to allocate work and implement area-based cleanups. 

Bundling work into packages drove efficiencies, generating more cleanup and reclamation work under the program, which kept more Saskatchewan people employed.  

Jesse Merilees, Vice-President of Business Integration at SRC, said the scope of this major project wasn’t a foreign concept to his team, but it still came with a bit of a learning curve. 

“SRC is sort of born to do this type of project in a lot of ways as we can ramp things up really quickly,” Merilees said. “We've managed large projects on behalf of the government before, so I think we were well placed to be able to lead this. We have the industry contacts, we've worked with some of the oil and gas companies for many decades, but the closure sector wasn't something that we'd worked with a lot before, so it was something we had to learn on the fly.” 

Merilees added the experience gained through the multi-year, multi-site remediation effort on Project CLEANS gave SRC the experience it needed to take the lead on the ASCP.  

Project CLEANS is a multi-year project focused on remediating 37 uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan that were abandoned by various mine operators in the 1950s and 1960s. The project achieved a new milestone in the spring of 2022 with the first stage of successful revegetation at the former Gunnar Mine and Mill Site. 

“I think it helped tremendously,” Merilees said. “We learned a lot about site cleanup with Project CLEANS and we were able to apply that to the ASCP. 

“From CLEANS we learned how to talk to communities, talk to the regulators, talk to who's going to be doing the work. It was nice to have a set of data to review before starting to make decisions and evaluate how we’re going to implement something.” 

Top priorities for the ASCP: remediation and employment 

Employment was an over-arching priority for the ASCP, as the government aimed to support 2,100 full-time equivalent jobs in the oil and gas service industry. The program ended up surpassing this goal by more than 350 jobs. Additionally, the program helped more than 900 different Saskatchewan and Indigenous service companies through a rocky economic phase due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The number one service provider in the program was an Indigenous company and three of the top 10 service providers in the program were also Indigenous owned and operated. Even though Indigenous participation in the program was a federal mandate, Merilees said the work couldn’t have been completed without engaging with Indigenous communities. 

“Many of the abandoned sites were on First Nations land to start with, so much like Project CLEANS, where we want to talk to the communities, we always found you get much more buy-in and much more support for programs, if you engage and talk to the communities we’re working in,” Merilees said. “The ASCP took things to a different level. We knew it was really important that we had buy-in, and we really found a collaborative relationship.” 

Merilees added the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre of Excellence played an integral part in forging collaborations and securing successful outcomes for Indigenous communities and Indigenous-owned and operated businesses.  

The ASCP was administered over several phases beginning in June 2020 and running until March 15, 2023. This program proved to be transformative, allowing Saskatchewan oil and gas service providers to thrive during a tough economic time for the energy sector. At the end of the program, the ASCP successfully spent 100 per cent of the $400 million, funding 900 Saskatchewan-based oil and gas service companies, supporting an estimated 2,500 jobs over the nearly three-year life of the program.  

During the program, over 8,800 well cleanups, and over 3,400 flowline cleanups were completed, plus over 14,000 site remediation and reclamation activities were conducted and over 18,500 unique oil and gas sites saw closure work completed. Many former oil and gas sites were returned to their natural state through remediation and reclamation of lands across the province. 

Over $90 million of the program funds were spent supporting Indigenous participation in the ASCP and over $32 million was used for projects on First Nation reserves. Plus, eligible Indigenous service companies completed over $59 million in site closure work under this program.  

Successful completion of an award-winning program 

In November 2023, SRC was a recipient of the Premier’s Award for Excellence in Public Service, alongside the Ministry of Energy and Resources and other collaborators involved in the ASCP.  

“We don't do things for awards, but to be able to have something like this recognized by the Premier is an honour,” Merilees said. “This is in recognition of the fantastic work that we did to ensure the success of a very important project for the province in a time of uncertainty.” 

The ASCP was a true Saskatchewan success story, meeting the federal and provincial government’s goal of getting people back to work during the pandemic, boosting the economy and cleaning up thousands of abandoned oil and gas well sites.