In Slumping Energy States, Plugging Abandoned Wells Could Provide an Economic Boost

Brian Skinner Budget, COVID-19, Energy & enviroment

Well plugging


STATELINE ARTICLE- By: Erika Bolstad – September 23, 2020

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — It’s rare for Tom Brooks to say no to work. Which is why, in the middle of a pandemic and a worldwide slump in oil prices, Brooks mustered up a crew to plug a 42-year-old oil well for the state of North Dakota. 

“We fought our way through the slow times and didn’t shut the doors,” Brooks said one afternoon this summer as he drove his pickup toward the well in question, tucked amid tan buttes in the scenic grasslands near the Montana state line. “We didn’t plan it that way. We were just too stupid to quit.”

Now, what’s helping keep Brooks and other oilfield service companies in business — just barely — is North Dakota’s $66 million stimulus program to plug 239 abandoned oil wells and to reclaim 2,000 acres of land, including those damaged by past oil and brine spills. 

States with an inventory of abandoned wells have long clamored for federal funding to help with such cleanups, but North Dakota may be the only one to devote pandemic relief money to plugging them. The state is spending a portion of its $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding to speed up its existing cleanup program.

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Note: Orphan wells, where the owner can’t be found or the company doesn’t have the assets to plug a well and clean up the site, often sit abandoned for decades. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission identified 56,600 documented orphan wells in 30 states, according to a report updated this year. There are 4,646 documented orphan wells and an estimated 9,000 undocumented orphan wells in West Virginia. 

There is no statutory definition of an “Orphan Well” in West Virginia. West Virginia uses the term “abandoned” (a well completed as a dry hole or is not in use for twelve consecutive months) and “inactive”. Idle period without approval is 12 months and the idle period with approval can be up to five years or longer.  An operator must furnish satisfactory proof that there is a bona fide future use for the well. Condition of the well must prevent waste and pollution of waters of the state.



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