More provincial funding is on the way to help cover the costs of managing the 2021 Wheatley gas explosion.
The province announced $2.5 million for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent on Friday, on top of the $25 million already spent to support the investigation, the recovery, monitoring, and eligible businesses and residents forced from their properties in Wheatley over the past 21 months.
Municipal officials told CK News Today details about how the funding will be distributed won't be available until Monday because they're still being sorted out. However, Chatham-Kent Fire and Emergency Services Chief Chris Case already has some ideas of his own on how to spend it.
"What we're doing right now is a Master Fire Plan and oil and gas wells form a huge part of that based on our experiences. l can already think of measures we can implement on monitoring and being able to respond to future events and increase the training of our firefighters," said Chief Case.
Chief Case said it's been the longest two years of his career, adding work continues to keep the area stable.
"We're trying to do now is find a more permanent solution to maintain the stability of the site, but right now I'm feeling quite confident. I'm not as worried as I was, but I'm still concerned," the fire chief added.
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith made the announcement and wouldn't commit to more funding for Wheatley, but didn't close the door either.
Chief Case said there is still hazardous materials technicians on-site checking the equipment and tests are being run weekly to ensure the area is stable.
Mayor Darrin Canniff also sent his thanks.
"On behalf of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, we wish to thank the Province of Ontario and various ministries for their commitment to reviewing and addressing the difficulties municipalities are grappling with due to the challenges posed by legacy oil and gas wells. We appreciate the financial and technical assistance provided to date and the province’s recognition of the need to provide further assistance. This will contribute to the healing of our community and protection of the environment," the mayor said.
The provincial government also announced $23.6 million to identify and plug old oil and gas wells in Ontario. Chatham-Kent and Essex County were specifically mentioned for funding eligibility by the Minister.
“This investment represents the first step in our government’s action plan to address the challenges and risks old oil and gas wells pose to communities across Ontario,” said Minister Smith. “With this funding, Chatham-Kent and other affected municipalities will be able to help keep their communities safe and prevent petroleum-related emergencies in the future.”
Wheatley Councillor Lauren Anderson said the Minister's words are encouraging.
"Of course it's wonderful to hear that there's going to be a plan put in place. We aren't really sure what the plan is so we'll see how that goes when we get it," Anderson said.
The $23.6 million will be used to develop an oil and gas action plan to help address the risks of old wells and conduct science and research to better understand the risks that old oil and gas wells pose.
The funding includes: $7.5 million over three years to directly support municipalities in their efforts to reduce risks and enhance emergency preparedness within their communities. Eligible municipalities will be invited to apply for funding for these activities in the coming weeks. It also doubles the existing Abandoned Works Program over three years to $6 million to support the plugging of old oil and gas wells.
Ontario has records for approximately 27,000 oil and gas wells, primarily on private land in southwestern Ontario and said it has spent $29.5 million to plug 415 wells across the province to date.