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Saskatchewan wants Ottawa to pay laid-off oil workers to clean old energy wells

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall addresses a news conference in Regina on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

MARK TAYLOR/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Saskatchewan wants the federal government to bankroll a program that would see oil and gas workers who have lost their jobs clean up abandoned wells.

Premier Brad Wall says it would help stimulate employment in the oil-and-gas sector and accelerate environmental cleanup of wells that are no longer capable of production.

Wall says he has pitched the proposal, which would cost Ottawa $156-million, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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"Here is a chance for us to actually put people back to work in the energy services sector and continue with the cleanup (of suspended wells), perhaps at a more accelerated rate," Wall said Monday.

He estimates the program would generate 1,200 jobs and speed up the decommissioning and reclamation of 1,000 non-producing wells in Saskatchewan over the next two years.

Work would include safe removal and disposal of old equipment, remediation of any spills, covering wells in concrete to eliminate venting of greenhouse gases such as methane and revegetation of the land.

The federal government has indicated it is considering the proposal, Wall said.

"I look forward to a favourable response."

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office were not immediately available for comment.

Saskatchewan's proposal is the brain child of Matt Cugnet, president of Valleyview Petroleums Ltd., a family-owned exploration and production company in Weyburn.

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Cugnet said the service sector has been hit hard by the economic downturn caused by low oil prices, forcing his and other companies to lay off trained workers with lots of experience.

He said hiring those workers to deal with suspended wells would help the economy and the environment.

"You can pay people to sit home on employment insurance or you can pay them to create value," Cugnett said.

It would also encourage workers to not move away from the region in search of other jobs, he suggested. Employees will be needed when the price of oil and the industry's prospects bounce back, he said.

"We are trying to hold on to our people as best we can. "Otherwise we lose their skill-set, knowledge and experience." Cugnett said he shared his idea with the member of the legislature for the Weyburn area, who presented it to the provincial government.

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