Alberta's premier is rejecting Opposition claims her planned $100-million pilot project for cleaning up old oil wells was influenced by her United Conservative party leadership campaign, arguing that federal money to get the job done missed many of the province's worst sites.

Speaking on her province-wide radio call-in show Saturday, Danielle Smith noted the worst wells have been inactive for decades and repeated her argument that government shares some of the blame for the fact regulators let companies off without fulfilling their responsibilities.

Smith said many of the companies that left those wells without cleaning them up aren't around anymore.

"Because we're targeting it so closely on the worst wells, we're looking at sites, for instance, that have been inactive for 20 years that were drilled prior to 1990, so these are kind of the worst of the worst sites," Smith told listeners Saturday after being asked about the NDP's claims the program is linked with her leadership fundraising.

"Now we're left with somebody holding the bag that may not have been responsible for the initial liability. We have regulators who allowed for those transfers to occur. We have regulators in the past who didn't require cleanup."

"I think we have to take some of the responsibility as government for the fact that we didn't manage it the way that we should have historically."

NDP Energy critic Kathleen Ganley said Friday it's a "huge concern" that before Smith re-entered politics, she lobbied for an oil well cleanup bailout that she made a government priority when she became premier.

The sources of the $1.3 million Smith raised for her leadership campaign last year have not been revealed, and her office has not responded to requests to address questions about how her campaign fundraising has affected her governing priorities.

The Liability Management Incentive Program proposes to give $100 million in royalty breaks to companies that fulfil their legal obligations to restore old oil and gas wells. A royalty is the price Alberta charges a company to develop a resource.

Premier @ABDanielleSmith rejects NDP claim oilwell cleanup help is linked with her leadership campaign. #ABPoli #WellCleanup #RStar #Alberta

Analysts with Scotiabank said in a report that the proposal "goes against the core capitalist principle that private companies should take full responsibility for the liabilities they willingly accept."

An Independent legislature member and former member of the UCP caucus, Drew Barnes, has called the plan "corporate welfare."

Smith on Saturday praised the federal government's Site Rehabilitation Program which provided $1 billion for well-site recovery, but she noted the program is about to end and that it missed the worst sites.

She said flare pits -- which she described as pools of water where waste materials were just thrown in -- are the biggest problem and have sat in some cases for 40 to 60 years. She said they're not being cleaned up because "it's a huge environmental liability expense companies are worried that they're not going to be able to get the signoff on it."

Landowners, she said, are left with the unremediated sites.

"The reason I advocated for this program when I first heard about it was because I feel so passionately about landowner rights. I feel so passionately that this has been a long-term problem. No one's ever found a way to address it," Smith told listeners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2023.