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 determined by an operator's number of wells and their depths. At year-end DEC held $24.66 million in financial security to guarantee well plugging and well site reclamation. This was essentially unchanged from the amount held at year-end 2010.
In 2011, operators plugged 146 wells in accordance with requirements in DEC-issued plugging permits. Of the 146 wells plugged in 2011:
- 114 (78%) of the plugged wells were oil wells in the old oilfields of western New York ;
- 12 (8%) were gas wells; and
- 20 (14%) were comprised of a mix of other regulated well types.
Plugging occurred in 17 counties with 48% of the plugging jobs in Cattaraugus County and 27% 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, many of these wells were drilled prior to the existence of a regulatory framework in New York. There are over 4,100 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 2011, this account held $96,000 .
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 2011 USEPA plugged a total of 39 wells, located as follows:
- 16 wells on the Burrows Oil Lease in the Town of Olean, Cattaraugus County;
- 14 wells on an old Pennzoil (Ballard) Lease in the Town of Bolivar, Allegany County;
- 8 wells on the Wood Oil Lease in the Town of Olean, Cattaraugus County; and
- 1 well in the Town of West Union, Steuben County.
In conjunction with the well plugging efforts, the well sites were reclaimed.