A few months ago I received an intriguing email from researcher and activist Regan Boychuk. For the past 15 years, Boychuk has been studying the oil-and-gas industry in Alberta (Canada) and he wanted to know if I would join his project. I immediately said yes.
Some backstory. You can think of Alberta as the Texas of Canada. Alberta is endowed with a vast trove of oil that it has been exploiting for the past 75 years. And like Texas, Alberta’s politics are dominated by the oil industry.
Oh, and Alberta is where I grew up.
Back to Regan Boychuk’s work. Boychuk has a vision for an Alberta in which the oil industry goes extinct by being forced to clean up its own mess. As it stands, Alberta has about 300,000 oil-and-gas wells waiting to be cleaned up at the oil companies’ expense. The problem is that oil companies are not forced to save for the clean-up expense, and accounting tricks allow them to make the clean-up liability look negligible in their corporate accounts.1 It’s an open secret (implicitly endorsed by the Alberta government) that defunct wells will never be cleaned up. If they were, the oil industry would go bankrupt.
And that’s exactly what Boychuk wants. His dream is to kill 3 birds with one stone:
- Show that the oil-and-gas industry is insolvent;
- Clean up every well in Alberta;
- Fund full employment and a transition to a sustainable Alberta economy.
To hasten this big-picture goal, Boychuk asked me to help by estimating production curves for every oil-and-gas well in Alberta. After much head scratching and many lines of code, that’s what I’ve done.
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