State Begins Plugging Orphaned Wells

Jun 13, 2014

Credit NETL/DOE

The state has started plugging some of the thousand-plus orphaned wells in the Powder River Basin. The wells are relics of the coal-bed methane bust, when many companies went bankrupt and walked away without closing their wells. The state has taken on responsibility for plugging them, using a combination of revoked bonds and funds from a production tax.

Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says they had hoped to start plugging wells a little bit sooner, but that there were scheduling conflicts to take into account.

“You’ve got calving season, lambing season, irrigation season, rainy season," Watson says. "And so [landowners will] say they want them plugged, but there’s only a certain amount of time you can get in there to do them.”

The well-plugging program started last week and is expected to take four to seven years, with 200 to 300 wells plugged each summer. Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says while he’s optimistic they can reach that goal, time will tell.

“We’re going to have a busy summer and we’re probably going to learn a lot from the first summer -- can we be more efficient next year, things we can be doing over the winter,” Watson says.

There are also at least a thousand more wells that could be declared orphaned in the near future. Watson says if that happens, they’ll need to pick up the pace and hire more people to oversee the work. He says right now, the Commission’s field inspectors are maxed out.

The well-plugging program could cost anywhere from $8 million to $32 million dollars, depending on how many of the “at-risk” are eventually orphaned.