At the end of their economic life, wells must be plugged in accordance with statutory and regulatory requirements. To ensure the sufficiency of funds for well plugging, the DEC holds financial security in amounts statutorily determined based on an operator's number of wells and their depths. At year-end 2013, DEC held $25.32 million in financial security to guarantee well plugging and well site reclamation. This represents an increase of $1.44 million from the amount held at year-end 2012.
In 2013, operators plugged 274 wells in accordance with requirements in DEC-issued plugging permits. Of the 274 wells plugged in 2013:
- 222 (81%) of the plugged wells were oil and secondary recovery wells in the old oilfields of western New York;
- 32 (12%) were gas wells; and
- 20 (7%) were comprised of a mix of other regulated well types.
Plugging occurred in 19 counties with 51% of the plugging jobs in Cattaraugus County and 28% in Allegany County. As noted above, the vast majority of plugging jobs involved old oil wells, particularly in the Richburg and Bradford Fields.
Abandoned Well Plugging
Orphaned wells have been abandoned by their original owners and the majority of these wells were drilled prior to the existence of a regulatory framework in New York. There are over 3,500 orphaned and inactive wells in the Department's records. The DEC's Oil and Gas Account (originally called the Oil and Gas Fund) is dedicated to the plugging of orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells. The account receives $100 from every ECL 23 Permit to Drill issued by the DEC. At year-end 2013, this account held $105,591.
The 2013-14 FY budget included $2 million for the plugging of abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. The much-needed allocation is part of the New York Works II program, and is referenced as the New York Works Well Plugging Initiative (NYWWPI). In 2013, two contracts were awarded under the NYWWPI for the plugging of nine abandoned gas wells in the City of Rome. The Division continued to inspect and evaluate well sites to support the development of additional well plugging projects.
Additionally, DEC staff continued working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard to plug oil wells with federal funds from the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. As a direct result of DEC staff efforts, USEPA has undertaken several plugging projects in New York State.
In 2013 USEPA plugged a total of 26 wells in two counties, as follows:
- Allegany County - 12 wells on the Adrian Oil Lease in the Town of Alma; and,
- Cattaraugus County - 14 wells on the Crooks Oil Lease in the Town of Carrollton
In conjunction with the well plugging efforts, the well sites were reclaimed.