With $1.15 billion in federal funding on its way, states are gearing up to make the most of their money and expanding their orphan well programs to properly deal with the scale of this problem. While some states have established orphan well programs that plug hundreds of wells per year, others have been grossly underfunded for decades.
Missouri boast around 2,500 orphan oil and gas wells, far from the most (Pennsylvania has over 27,000 documented orphan wells and is estimated to have as many as 200,000 total orphan wells), but a tall task for one man nonetheless. Aaron Szapa, an oil and gas geologist for the Missouri Department of Natural Gas Resources well installation section, is responsible for “about 100% of the work in the state” when it comes to oil and gas. His responsibilities include regulation, permitting, customer support, and now figuring out how to put $32 million in federal funding to use plugging orphan wells.
Prior to the passage of the Regrow Act, Missouri’s budget for plugging wells was essentially non-existent, with a small sum set aside for emergencies only. This lack of funding stems from outdated bonding regulations that don’t properly reflect current costs to plug wells. Szapa described a recent instance where a company with over 100 wells went bankrupt and turned liability over to the state. The company had paid the required bond of $20,000, but this amount is grossly inadequate to cover remediation for even one well (Closure costs alone can average between $25,000 and $475,000 per well).
The impact this funding will have is massive, “It’s gonna give us some real assets to make things happen,” said Szapa. These funds will allow Missouri to remediate thousands of wells that leak greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition to the critical reduction in emissions, it will also protect the public from harmful chemicals such as benzene leaking into groundwater. It is estimated there are around 1,500 undocumented wells in the Kansas City area, and with the city’s footprint rapidly expanding, sealing these wells is of the utmost importance.
There are over 130,000 documented orphan wells in the United States, with tens of thousands of undocumented wells estimated to exist due to drilling prior to record keeping. Plugging these wells will have a profound impact on both the environment and the economy. Documented orphan wells alone emit 7-to-20 million tons of C02 equivalent greenhouse gasses annually, which could be completely eliminated with proper plug and abandonment. Additionally, the Regrow Act is expected to create tens of thousands of good paying jobs across the country as service providers expand to take on this work for state orphan well programs.
Plugging costs can average between $25,000 and $475,000 per well, and vary immensely based on well age, condition, and location. Choosing the right sealing method is critical as failures can quickly accumulate leading to a spiral of complicated and expensive rework. BioSqueeze® has proven to be vastly more effective and environmentally friendly than traditional technologies. By reducing the number of failed attempts to seal a well, REGROW Act funding will go significantly further allowing more wells to be sealed and less methane to escape into the atmosphere.
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