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Well Plugging

2016

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, DMN holds financial security in amounts statutorily determined based on an operator's number of wells and their depths. At year-end 2016, DMN held $18.94 million in financial security to guarantee well plugging and well site reclamation. This represents a decrease of $4.16 million from the amount held at year-end 2015.

Plugging Permits

In 2016, operators plugged 189 wells in accordance with requirements in DMN-issued plugging permits. Of the 189 wells plugged in 2016:

  • 91 (48.15%) of the plugged wells were oil and secondary recovery wells in the oilfields of western New York;
  • 74 (39.15%) were gas wells; and
  • 24 (12.70%) were comprised of a mix of other regulated well types.

Plugging occurred in 15 counties with 31.22% of the plugging jobs in Cattaraugus County, 20.63% in Chautauqua County, and 17.46% in Allegany County. As noted above, the plurality of plugging jobs involved old oil wells, particularly in the Richburg and Bradford fields.

Orphaned Well Plugging

Orphaned wells are unplugged wells that have been abandoned by their original owners or operators, and for which no legally responsible owner or operator can be identified. These wells exist in all oil and gas producing regions in the United States including New York State, and they represent a relatively small but significant part of the nation's legacy of historical energy production. There are records for over 3,500 orphaned wells in the Department's oil and gas database. Most of these wells were drilled prior to the existence of a regulatory framework in New York.

In 2016, 56 orphaned wells were plugged by DMN and EPA, the majority of which were oil and secondary recovery wells in the Richburg Field in Allegany County. The 56 orphaned wells were distributed over four counties: Allegany (46 oil and secondary recovery wells plugged; 82.14% of total); Cattaraugus (6 oil and secondary recovery wells plugged; 10.71% of total); Chemung (3 gas wells plugged; 5.36% of total); and Steuben (1 gas well plugged; 1.79% of total). Of the 56 orphaned wells plugged by DMN and EPA in 2016:

  • 42 were plugged by DMN
    • 38 (90.48%) were oil and secondary recovery wells in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties and;
    • 4 (9.52%) were gas wells in Chemung and Steuben counties
  • 14 were plugged by EPA
    • All 14 (100%) were oil and secondary recovery wells in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties

Oil and Gas Account

Since 1981, when the New York State Legislature established the Oil and Gas Account (originally called the Oil and Gas Fund) to address orphaned oil and gas wells, the state has made efforts to plug such wells, with some limited success. The account receives $100 from every ECL Article 23 Permit to Drill issued by the DMN. At year-end 2016, this account held $124,014.

EPA Well Plugging

In 2016, DMN staff continued working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard to plug oil wells with federal funding authorized under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). The OPA 90 funding is used to address leaking oil wells that pose imminent threats to navigable waterways. As a direct result of DMN staff efforts, USEPA has undertaken several plugging projects in New York State since 2005. In 2016, USEPA plugged a total of 14 Upper Devonian oil wells; one in the Town of Carrollton, Cattaraugus County; one in the Town of Willing, Allegany County; two in the Town of Bolivar, Allegany County; and 10 in the Town of Alma, Allegany County. In conjunction with the well plugging efforts, the well sites were reclaimed.

New York Works Well Plugging Initiative

The State's fiscal budgets for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 fiscal years (FY) included $2 million per FY for the plugging of orphaned oil and gas wells; this funding - termed the New York Works Well Plugging Initiative (NYWWPI) - has provided a significant opportunity to address these legacy oil and gas wells, some of which represent significant threats to public safety and the environment. New York is home to over 3,500 of these orphaned wells, concentrated primarily in the southwestern part of the state where most of the historical drilling has occurred.

To prioritize the wells for inclusion in NYWWPI well-plugging projects, the Department uses a scoring rubric that assigns numeric values to various aspects of each well (e.g., location, construction, proximity to sensitive receptors) and then sums the individual values to establish a total score for each well. Higher-scoring wells represent greater potential threats, and those wells are given higher priority for plugging under the NYWWPI. Consistent with Department practice for all ECL 23 well-plugging operations, upon successful completion of the plugging of the well, the land surface around each well is restored to match adjacent areas.

Building on its successes from 2015, the Department initiated three well-plugging projects under the NYWWPI in 2016. These projects encompassed nine oil production wells in the Town of Farmersville, Cattaraugus County, 71 oil and secondary recovery wells in the Town of Bolivar, Allegany County, and four gas wells in the Town of Hornby, Steuben County and the Town of Southport and the City of Elmira, Chemung County.

The Moose Oil Wells - Package 1 Well Plugging Project in the Town of Bolivar, Allegany County includes 71 orphaned oil production and water injection wells which were completed between the early 1900s and the 1960s in the Richburg and Waugh & Porter formations at depths ranging from 1,299 feet to 1,779 feet. The wells are located in steep, wooded terrain on the west side of California Hollow in an area of active silviculture (logging). Due to their lack of maintenance and proximity to wetlands to the east, these wells represent significant potential threats to public safety and the environment. To date, 33 wells from the project have been successfully plugged, and the land surface at each well location has been graded to match the surrounding area. The remaining 38 wells, plus any additional abandoned wells that may be found on the lease, will be plugged in 2017.

The Elmira Well Plugging Project scope of work included five gas wells distributed over a fairly wide geographic area between Steuben and Chemung counties. The wells were completed in 1940 and 1941 targeting the Oriskany formation at depths ranging from 2,740 to 2,772 feet. The project began in May at the Malacoccio 1 (API #31-015-00613-00-00), and the plugging contractor immediately encountered a large mass of cast-in-place concrete surrounding the well that required removal using jack hammers and a track-mounted excavator. Not unlike many orphaned wells encountered by the Department, the Malacoccio 1 also presented downhole complications within the wellbore that required significant additional time and effort on the part of the plugging contractor to ensure that cement plugs were emplaced at the prescribed depths. One of the wells, thought to be the Harder 1 (API #31-015-00612-00-00), was determined during the project to be an abandoned water well. The plugging contractor entered the Harder 1 and reached approximately 100 feet, still in native bedrock, Another well, the Mangin (API #31-015-00606-00-00), has been the source of numerous complaints over the years from residents, as it had been periodically set on fire by vandals, thereby requiring responses from police, fire and other emergency personnel. Owing to their advanced age, lack of maintenance, and close proximity to residences, commercial enterprises, roads, and wetlands, the other wells also represented potential threats to public safety and the environment. At each location, after the setting of the surface plug, the well casing was cut below grade to remove any surface expression. Site reclamation included grading, replacement of topsoil, seeding, and mulching to provide a vegetative cover similar to surrounding, unaffected areas. Department staff monitored the site periodically until the vegetative cover was fully re-established. Plugging and reclamation operations were completed in September.

The F.E. Petroleum/Merrill Resources Inc. Lawrence Lease Well Plugging Project in the Town of Farmersville, Cattaraugus County includes nine orphaned oil wells, which were completed between 1974 and 1981, targeting Upper Devonian formations at depths ranging from 496 to 2,550 feet. The wells had not been maintained for decades and were in poor condition and overgrown with vegetation. Further, their proximity to residences, farm lands, and surface waters increased the potential threat to public safety and the environment. By the end of 2016, five of the wells had been successfully plugged. The remaining four wells are scheduled to be plugged in early 2017.

The successful completion of the Elmira Well Plugging Project, including the plugging of four orphaned gas wells and the restoration of the surrounding land surface, are part of the NYWWPI program's continuing success story.

Mangin (API #31-015-00606-00-00) aflame, prior to plugging
Mangin (API #31-015-00606-00-00): Rig and equipment during plugging operations

Mangin (API #31-015-00606-00-00) aflame, prior to plugging (left). Rig and equipment during plugging operations (right).

After the Mangin was successfully plugged, the wellsite was reclaimed to match the surrounding landscape.
After the Mangin was successfully plugged, the wellsite was reclaimed to match the surrounding landscape.

Malacoccio 1 (API #31-015-00613-00-00) from the Elmira Well Plugging Project prior to plugging.
Malacoccio 1 wellsite being prepared for plugging operations.

Malacoccio (API #31-015-00613-00-00) from the Elmira Well Plugging Project prior to plugging (left). Malacoccio 1 wellsite being prepared for plugging operations (right).

After the Malacoccio 1 was successfully plugged, the wellsite was reclaimed to match the surrounding landscape.
After the Malacoccio 1 was successfully plugged, the wellsite was reclaimed to match the surrounding landscape.


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