Texas has a proud history of independence, and the state approach to addressing orphan wells is unique. The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is the state regulatory agency for the oil and gas industry, including gas utilities, pipeline and LPG safety, and mining. Well records and funding programs for orphan well plugging and reclamation are managed by the RRC.
In January 2024, the DOI announced BIL Phase 1 formula funding of $80 million for Texas to continue plugging orphaned oil and gas wells, following an initial August 2022 grant of $25 million. Grant funds for Texas, awarded over several years, are expected to total $344 million, but require methane measurement and reporting.
States have plugged nearly 6,000 wells so far with this grant funding, including ~730 wells in Texas.
According to the RRC listing of inactive wells, there may be almost 150,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. An estimated 17,000 of these wells have been inactive for more than 20 years. The RRC program has plugged over 44,000 wells since the 1980s.
Since 2005, the RRC has plugged an estimated 20,000 orphan wells, but over 22,000 wells were added to the list between 2006 and 2021. Currently the RRC has a rolling list of around 8,200 orphan wells to be plugged: only wells that have gone through the RRC certification process are added to the list.
Historically (2016-2021), the RRC has plugged ~1,660 orphan wells annually, with nearly $49 million used to plug 1,279 oil wells in 2021.
In 2022, the RRC spent ~$30 million to plug 1,068 wells and while adding 944 wells to its orphan list.
This year the RRC anticipates it may plug up to 2,200 orphan wells.
RRC closed out its 2023 year in August with 1,754 orphan wells plugged using state funds and an additional 730 orphan wells plugged with the $25M in federal grants it received in August 2022.
The RRC plans to plug 1,800 orphan wells in 2024 using state funds, with 391 plugged as of November 30, 2023 and has well-plugging crews deployed across the state.. However, plugging costs continue to rise, with unconventional wells proving costly to plug due to expensive labor and equipment, evolving standards for evaluation and plugging, and aging assets that are losing value.
The average cost per well for plugging ranges from $20,000 to over $1 million, based on location, well type, and well condition.
Texas is in line to receive grants over several years totaling $320 million, enough to plug around 7,400 wells.
However, the RRC may not accept additional grants until federal guidelines are released: the RRC asked the Department Of the Interior (DOI) to reconsider guidelines that would require post-plugging monitoring for methane and groundwater contamination and data submission for wells plugged with federal dollars. This monitoring would be outside the RRC’s statutory scope.
While implementing monitoring requirements would demand significant investment of funds already stretched thin to take on the job at hand, eliminating methane and protecting groundwater are the ultimate goals of plugging efforts, making their reporting vital to the success of the program.
For operators seeking to effectively seal wells being plugged with annular leaks allowing methane to travel freely up the well and to surface, BioSqueeze provides a novel new solution utilizing natural biomineralization technology to permanently seal leaks. Using natural soil bacteria delivered via low-viscosity fluids that form new minerals similar to limestone, BioSqueeze efficiently eliminates methane in the form of sustained casing pressure/casing vent flow while leaving the well full ID thus ensuring regulatory requirements are satisfied with minimal impact on standard abandonment procedures.