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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

The New York Works Well Plugging Initiative (NYWWPI) began in earnest in mid-2013, following approval of the state's budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The initial allocation of $2M for well plugging was established as part of a $40M Department-wide funding of infrastructure improvements (NYW Infrastructure 2 Fund). These funds created a significant opportunity to address the state's unplugged orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells, most of which were drilled prior to the existence of the state's oil and gas regulatory program. Additional NYWWPI funding has been provided to the Department through subsequent state budgetary allocations. The Department has successfully completed ten plugging projects totaling 166 wells under the NYWWPI. As of summer 2018, three more projects comprising 12 wells have been awarded, and two projects comprising 113 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, it is scored by assigning numeric values to various aspects (e.g., location, construction, proximity to sensitive receptors); the component scores are then summed to establish a total score for each well. Higher scoring wells represent greater potential threats, and are therefore given higher 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 the bid documents are complete, the contract is advertised. 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

Ontario Well Plugging Project 1

County: Ontario; Towns: Bristol, South Bristol, Canandaigua, East Bloomfield, and Richmond

The project consists of the plugging of six abandoned gas wells located throughout Ontario County. Between 1917 and 1976, the wells were drilled to target the Medina, Oriskany, and Queenston formations at depths from 884 to 3,850 feet. Four wells included in the this project are leaking natural gas causing a potential environmental and public health hazard. The contract was finalized in July 2018, and the contractor has been issued a Notice to Proceed.

Hunter C1 Well Plugging Project

County: Cayuga; Town: Cato

The project includes the remedial plugging of one abandoned gas well. The gas well was drilled in 1984 to a total depth of 2,866 feet. Due to continuous gas leakage, third party plugging attempts were made to seal the well. Since the unsuccessful plugging attempts, the well was abandoned and continued to leak gas at high pressures compelling Department action. The well is located within a New York State regulated wetland necessitating an Article-24 Freshwater Wetlands permit prior to remedial plugging operations. The contract was finalized in July 2018, and the contractor has been issued a Notice to Proceed.

Seneca County Well Plugging Project

County: Seneca; Towns: 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. The contract was finalized in February 2018, and site preparation commenced shortly thereafter. As of June 2018, one well has been successfully plugged, and as of fall 2018, it is expected that all well plugging operations will be completed.

Completed Projects

2018

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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