PHOTOGRAPHY: ALANA BARTOL
Alana Bartol, Orphan Well Adoption Agency, 2017-ongoing
Founded in 2017, Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA) explores new methods of reading, assessing, and understanding the health of sites contaminated by the oil and gas industry. As part of its work, OWAA is dedicated to finding symbolic caretakers for orphan oil and gas wells across Alberta. As of 2020, over 60 wells have been symbolically adopted.
From 2017-2019, Orphan Well Adoption Agency held temporary offices in Alberta at TRUCK Contemporary Art, Latitude 53, and Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. Members of the public were invited to meet with OWAA representatives and apply to symbolically adopt a well. If approved, caretakers received a certificate of adoption with the name and location of an orphan well in Alberta along with a postcard of a well. Caretakers also have the option receive mailed correspondence from their well.
OWAA re-imagines dowsing (aka water-witching) as a form of technology for environmental remediation, one that might shift our relationship to natural resources, while examining remediation, care, and the reliability of information. OWAA dowsers uncover information and messages from well sites which transcribed and mailed to caretakers. Although some wells may be dormant and uncommunicative, the OWAA makes every attempt to reach them.
Part of the OWAA’s mission is to share information and educate the public about the plight of orphan wells and related issues. The number of orphan wells has steadily increased since the OWAA began its work in 2017. As defined by the Orphan Well Association (OWA), a non‐profit organization that operates under the delegated legal authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), an orphan is “an oil or gas well site which has been investigated and confirmed as not having any legally responsible and/or financially able party to deal with its abandonment and reclamation responsibilities”. (Orphan Well Association) These sites threaten to contaminate land, water, and life, with remediation efforts lasting up to a decade. Unlike the OWA, OWAA extends the definition of orphan wells to include the 90,000 inactive (or suspended) and 77,000 abandoned wells in Alberta that are not yet fully reclaimed. (Government of Alberta) Though these well sites are still under the responsibility of their company caretaker, they are in the OWAA orphanage so that they might find the recognition and care they deserve. With no time limits on how long a well can sit dormant, many sit in various states of disrepair and remediation, with leaks, spills and excess gas.
Learn more at: www.orphanwelladoptionagency.com.
Thank you Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their generous support of this work. The work of the OWAA has been made possible through connections with Surface Rights Groups in Alberta.
Government of Alberta, “Upstream oil and gas liability and orphan well inventory.” Alberta, Government of Alberta, 2020, https://www.alberta.ca/upstream-oil-and-gas-liability-and-orphan-well-inventory.aspx. Accessed 26 Feb 2020.
Orphan Well Association, “FAQ.” Orphan Well Association, 2020, http://www.orphanwell.ca/faq. Accessed 28 Feb 2020.
 Abandoned is an industry term for a well that has been permanently dismantled, meaning that the surface infrastructure was removed, and the well is plugged with cement and capped. Not all abandoned wells are orphan wells, most of the abandoned wells in the province are still the responsibility of the company owner. After abandonment, the next step is to reclaim the site.
Alana Bartol comes from a long line of water witches. Her site-responsive works explore divination as a way of understanding across places, species, and bodies. Through collaborative and individual works, she creates relationships between the personal sphere and the landscape, particular to this time of ecological crisis. A multidisciplinary artist with a B.F.A. from the University of Windsor and an M.F.A. from Detroit’s Wayne State University, she has been a visitor to Treaty 7 territory living and working in Mohkinstsis (Calgary), Alberta for 5 years. Bartol’s work has been exhibited and presented nationally and internationally in galleries and festivals. In 2019, she was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award. She currently teaches at Alberta University of the Arts.
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