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The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.

The Making of Hong Kong: From Vertical to Volumetric

This article was published more than 6 months ago. Some information in it may no longer be current. Harold Wang was driving a hard bargain. For weeks, he had been in talks with Calgary-based Perpetual Energy Inc. Despite the pittance he was preparing to pay, negotiations had bogged down.

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By early August Mr. Wang, who had previously worked at major U. Riddell Rose in which he threatened to put the deal on hold. After all, the acquisition was not without major risks. Still, he continued to play hardball.


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Riddell Rose replied. Wang did not relent, and the next day he secured even sweeter terms. What followed was a complex deal that exemplifies the dangers of a brisk trade in high-liability energy assets now confounding governments and their regulators. Within 18 months, Mr. The Globe and Mail spent six months poring over court records and delving into thousands of pages of corporate and government documents, obtained via freedom-of-information laws, in an effort to shine a light on a murky corner of the oil and gas business that has flourished through the prolonged slump in commodity prices: the buying and selling of wells and production plants saddled with major environmental liabilities.

Almost two-thirds of these , idle wells have been shut off for more than five years. And a growing proportion are owned by companies that can least afford to clean them up — a process known as reclamation — when their commercial life ends. Sequoia is a prime example of the fallout, though it is far from unique.

Led by Mr. Riddell Rose that is part of a lawsuit filed by the bankruptcy trustee, PricewaterhouseCoopers, in its efforts to recoup some of the costs for decommissioning the aging sites. Neither he nor Mr. Yang would comment for this story.

In the oil patch, pliant regulators have enabled well-known companies, including Husky Energy Inc. In some cases, those smaller players are purchasing the assets even though they are unable to secure financing from major banks. The risky bet is that natural-gas prices will rebound and deliver payoffs big enough to generate profits while also funding the cleanup of old wells as they peter out. But the gamble has stirred a backlash in the industry. It has also angered landowners who complain of being shortchanged on lease payments from energy companies.

And ultimately it has left taxpayers to shoulder a financial and environmental mess. Sequoia is just one player in a wider scheme that could push cleanup costs substantially higher for such wells across B. The well has been filled with cement and its wellhead has been removed and capped. This type of well is also known as abandoned. The well site has been returned to its original state and a reclamation certificate has been issued.

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The well has no owner because the owner is bankrupt. The well and its cleanup costs have been transferred to an orphan well fund. Tight U. The upshot: a drilling boom that sent profits soaring — and royalties gushing into provincial budgets. But then came the shale-gas fracking revolution, which allowed the U. This past summer gas traded, at times, for negative values. Medicine Hat, Alta. Some wells in the city date back more than a century. Over the years, the city itself had become an active gas driller, padding the municipal budget with large dividends.

But today drillers are largely bypassing this corner of Alberta. Across the Prairies, the prolonged downturn in prices has aggravated concerns, as inactive wells — and their future cleanup costs — languish on the books of Perpetual, Husky, Enerplus and others. As wells age and production declines, such obligations are like pension funds faced with growing payouts as beneficiaries retire, says Jeremy McCrea, an analyst at Raymond James Ltd.

Meanwhile, costs such as maintenance, lease payments to landowners and municipal taxes remain elevated, even as production falls. None of which pleases investors. McCrea noted. Keith Wilson, an Edmonton-based lawyer who represents landowners in disputes with energy companies, is blunt. Along with those liabilities have come growing risks for governments, as companies with weak finances have snapped up money-losing wells in an ill-advised roll of the dice on natural-gas prices. The sellers include big names in the oil patch, while.

The chart depicts transfers of The sellers include big names in the oil patch, while many of the buyers are little-known companies.

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The chart. The deal-making has been heady. Many are small firms with only a handful of employees and were created in the past few years. But the standard has been only loosely enforced. Meanwhile, some companies have gone to great pains to simply circumvent the scrutiny. Riddell Rose. Rather than transferring assets to Mr.

Riddell Rose denies that was the reason for setting up the structure, saying, rather, that it just made things simpler, given the many and varied assets Perpetual was parting with. The trustee, PricewaterhouseCoopers, alleges in its suit that Perpetual and its CEO knew the hefty liabilities in the deal would render Sequoia insolvent — a charge both she and Perpetual deny. The allegations have not been proved in court. But one thing is certain: The Perpetual transaction sparked a deal spree by Sequoia.

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Sources close to the company say it kept buying in order to achieve a large enough asset collection to make it of interest to Chinese investors. Along the way, it sought breaks on millions of dollars in unpaid municipal taxes. The regulator has acknowledged the loopholes that saddled it with those costs. But it has yet to say how it will close them. The wider trade in distressed oil and gas assets is playing out as a glut of heavy crude in Alberta sparks calls from some executives for government relief.

The trafficking in aging wells has garnered comparatively few headlines, but it bears some resemblance to the U. Defaults on those mortgages were a factor in the near-collapse of the global financial system in The AER announced this month that Mr. Ellis will be resigning in January. But if the AER was worried about risky asset transfers, it did little to stop Sequoia from piling on more liabilities. But there was a catch: AER rules prevented the buyer from acquiring the assets.

Approval came swiftly. It was not an isolated exemption. Since June, , the AER says it has received requests to relax its toughened rules.