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Orphan & Abandoned Well Plugging

Orphaned and 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.

Orphaned wells are a subset of abandoned wells for which no owner can be determined. In most instances, orphaned wells were drilled in the late 1800s to early 1900s, prior to the establishment of a modern regulatory framework in New York. Due to their advanced age and the lack of comprehensive well information, these wells may present significant threats to public safety and the environment.

To address these threats, the DEC has developed well plugging programs. 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, orphaned 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 orphaned and abandoned wells can also provide a potential route for subsurface methane to escape into the atmosphere, potentially contributing to increased 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.
Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells exist throughout New
York, but are concentrated primarily in the southwestern
portion of the state where most historical drilling has occurred.

Oil and Gas Account

To address the issue of orphaned and abandoned wells, the New York State Legislature established the Oil and Gas Account (Account) in 1982. The Account is administered by the DEC and generated revenue is utilized to plug orphaned and abandoned wells. Article 23 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) empowers the DEC to temporarily take possession of any abandoned well in the state, and to plug or replug the well as necessary. To date, the DEC has plugged 121 wells with funds from the Account.

New York Works Well Plugging Initiative

The New York Works Well Plugging Initiative (NYWWPI) began 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 DEC-wide funding of infrastructure improvements (NYW Infrastructure 2 Fund). These funds created a significant opportunity to address the state's unplugged orphaned 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 DEC through subsequent state budgetary allocations. The DEC has successfully completed 20 plugging projects totaling 260 wells under the NYWWPI. Currently, 3 more projects comprising at least 89 wells are in progress.

Process

To prioritize orphaned and abandoned wells for inclusion in NYWWPI well-plugging projects, the DEC uses a scoring rubric to assess the risk to public safety and the environment. Once a well is located and inspected, it is scored with numeric values representing 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 including 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 the DEC, 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 DEC-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

Old Auburn 1 Well Plugging Project

County: Cayuga; Towns: Throop

This project includes the plugging of at least one abandoned gas well that is leaking hydrogen sulfide in close proximity to residences and wetlands. In 1897, the well was drilled to 3,600 feet into the Trenton. Downhole work began in June 2020.

Moore Producing Co. Well Plugging Project

County: Allegany; Towns: Bolivar and Genesee

The project includes the plugging of at least 84 abandoned oil/injection wells located in Allegany County. Since the wells were drilled prior to the existence of a regulatory framework, limited information is available regarding these wells. The well depths are expected to range from 1,100 feet to 1,200 feet. As of September 2020, 66 wells have been successfully plugged.

Steuben County Well Plugging Project

County: Steuben; Towns: Greenwood, Rathbone, Canisteo, Avoca, and West Union

The project includes the plugging of ten abandoned gas wells located throughout Steuben County. Between 1931 and 1954, the wells were drilled to depths from 845 to 3,747 feet. In December 2018, plugging operations began on the first well. Complications have been encountered due to limited well records, poor downhole conditions, and shallow gas formations. As of September 2020, nine of the ten wells have been successfully plugged. The plugging of the final well is currently on hold.

Completed Projects

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

Open Data Initiative

The DEC 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 list of abandoned wells.


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