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Orphan & Abandoned Well Plugging

Orphan & Abandoned Wells

Abandoned wells are unplugged wells (primarily oil or gas wells) that have not been operated and maintained in accordance with prevailing statute and regulation. Many abandoned wells have fallen into advanced states of disrepair.

Orphan wells are a subset of abandoned wells. They are abandoned wells for which no owner can be determined. In most instances, these wells were drilled prior to the existence of a regulatory framework in New York. Due to their advanced age and the lack of comprehensive well information, these wells may present significant public health and environmental hazards.

To address these threats, well plugging programs have been developed. Well plugging involves the placement of cement at discrete depth intervals in a wellbore to seal off hydrocarbon-bearing zones and prevent the pollution of aquifers and surface waters. If left unplugged, orphan and abandoned wells can provide unimpeded conduits for oil, gas, and other fluids to migrate between different geologic formations, into aquifers, and/or to the land surface. Unplugged orphan and abandoned wells can also provide a potential route for subsurface methane to escape into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to and increasing levels of greenhouse gases.

Orphan & Abandoned Well Map to show that the orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells are heavily concentrated in the southwestern portion of the state. New York has efforts to address and plug old, orphan and abandoned wells.
Orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells exist throughout the
state, but are concentrated primarily in the southwestern
portion of the state where most historical drilling has occurred.

Oil & Gas Account

To address the issue of orphan and abandoned wells, the New York State Legislature established the Oil and Gas Account (Account) in 1982. The Account is administered by the Department and generated revenue is utilized to plug orphan and abandoned wells. Article 23 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) empowers the Department to temporarily take possession of any abandoned well in the state, and to plug or replug the well as necessary. To date, the Department has plugged 119 wells with funds from the Account.

New York Works Well Plugging Initiative

For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, $2 million from the New York Works Infrastructure 2 Fund were allocated for the plugging of orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells. Titled the New York Works Well Plugging Initiative (NYWWPI), this provided a significant opportunity to address unplugged orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells throughout the state. Additional NYWWPI funding has been provided to the Department through subsequent state budgetary allocations. The Department has successfully completed eight plugging projects totaling 104 wells under the NYWWPI. As of summer 2017, three more projects comprising 66 wells are currently in development.

Process

To prioritize orphan and abandoned wells for inclusion in NYWWPI well-plugging projects, the Department uses a scoring rubric to assess the risk to public safety and the environment. Once a well is located and inspected, numeric values are assigned to various aspects of the well (e.g., location, construction, proximity to sensitive receptors) and summed to establish a total score. The highest scoring wells represent the greatest potential threat, and therefore given highest priority for plugging under the NYWWPI.

As wells are identified and scored, plugging contracts comprising one or more wells are generated. Each contract addresses specific challenges, such as stream crossings, wetland work, or known obstructions at depth in a well. When complete, the contract is advertised and sent out for bids. Well-plugging contractors, registered with Department, can place bids on the various projects. Once a winning bid is accepted and has received all necessary approvals, the contractor can begin to plug the well(s).

All Department-supervised well plugging and surface restoration operations are performed in accordance with ECL 23 and its implementing regulations at 6 NYCRR Parts 550-559.

New York Works Well Plugging Projects

Current Projects

Moose Oil Wells - Package 2 Well Plugging Project

County: Allegany; Town: Bolivar

The project consists of the plugging of 60 abandoned oil and injection wells. The contract specifically targets the Tullar Lease, a subset of leases formerly operated by Moose Oil Company. The wells were drilled in the early to mid-1900s and have been abandoned for several decades. Plugging operations commenced on May 31, 2017; by late summer 2017, approximately 30 wells were plugged.

Seneca County Well Plugging Project

County: Seneca; Town: Waterloo, Junius, and Ovid

The project entails the plugging of five orphan gas wells located throughout Seneca County. The wells were drilled between 1933 and 1963, and they are in various states of disrepair. Two wells are located in Department-regulated wetlands and require additional permits prior to the commencement of well plugging operations. The project was bid in summer 2017, and the Department is currently working with the winning bidder to finalize the contract.

Lewandowski U1 Well Plugging Project

County: Erie; Town: Lancaster

The project comprises the plugging of the Lewandowski U1 (API 31-029-61745-00-00) gas well. The Department received a landowner complaint regarding this previously-unknown orphan well that was leaking methane. Department staff performed an inspection and reported an audible gas leak from the well, which was located approximately 250 feet from the complainant's residence. As the well was leaking gas in proximity to a residential dwelling, it qualified for inclusion in the NYWWPI program. Department staff conducted a pre-bid meeting at the well site in late June 2017, and the contract was awarded in August 2017. The winning bidder has been selected, and well plugging operations are scheduled for late summer.

Completed Projects

2017

2016

2015

2014

Open Data Initiative

The Department is committed to increasing transparency and providing information to the public through the Open Data Initiative. The public may access the Open Data webpage and acquire various datasets maintained by the Division of Mineral Resources, including annual well production information and a listing of abandoned wells.


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