Marginal Wells – Plug or Produce


Oct 05, 2023

Plugging Producing Wells?

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is leading a $1.3 billion interagency methane reduction initiative focused on the oil and natural gas industry. NETL, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management will try to measure and reduce methane emissions from marginal conventional wells (MCWs), defined by the IRS as “a well that produces less than 15 barrels of oil or equivalent, or less than 90,000 cubic feet (90 MCF) of natural gas per day.”

These wells are also called stripper wells, although definitions of marginal and stripper wells vary by organization and region. Whatever the definition, these MCWs are typically older wells that are nearing the end of economic usefulness, but can produce small volumes of oil or gas for long periods.

MCWs – Most of Conventional Wells

The segment of U.S. oil and natural gas wells producing less than 15 BOE/d has remained at about 80% from 2000 through 2021. According to the DOE Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are around 917,000 producing wells in the U.S., with about 695,000 (~78%) of these wells producing less than 15 BOE/d, and 59,000 (~6.4%) producing more than 100 BOE/d. These MCWs produced around 7% of U.S. oil and gas in 2021 (DOE estimates), but are a disproportionately high source of GHG emissions, with the very low-production wells (< 1 BOE/day) releasing perhaps 11% of industry methane totals, according to Department of the Interior (DOI) estimates and EPA GHG inventory data.

Tech Tools – Coming soon to a well near you

NETL’s Research & Innovation Center will provide technical assistance and research/development to support Federal partners, states, Tribal governments and others in monitoring and mitigating methane emissions. Innovative tools and technologies (ground-based fiber optic, passive wireless, and electrochemical sensors, as well as drone- and aircraft-based sensors) are part of the technical assistance for states and the oil and gas industry.

In addition, NETL is developing an open-source database that will allow better decisions in effective identification and classification of emissions mitigation programs. NETL noted that there is not a standardized approach for monitoring and mitigating MCW emissions.

NETL will also manage a $350 million grant program that funds state plugging of low-production conventional wells.

Slash Emissions, Sustain Production

While it makes sense to plug wells at the end of their useful life, many marginal wells will continue to produce meaningful amounts of oil and gas for years to come with little to no upkeep necessary. While reducing emissions from these wells is important, the focus of funding should be on sealing leaks not plugging wells outright. This would allow production to continue for years to come while eliminating fugitive methane emissions.

Additionally, an increasing number of marginal wells are being recompleted to extract more available hydrocarbons using existing infrastructure rather than starting over by drilling a new well altogether. Foregoing plugging while minimizing fugitive emissions enables less-intensive recompletions since the well can be quickly reentered without having to drill out plugs in the wellbore.

BioSqueeze® provides a new solution to sealing methane leaks in oil and gas wells that is safe, effective, and leaves no material in the wellbore, enabling continued production. Additionally, it can be delivered without a rig via surface injection down the back side to seal leaks thousands of feet down, permanently sequestering methane at its source.

Investing funds to reduce emissions from oil and gas production makes sense, but not when it means needlessly sacrificing production. Keeping producing wells operational throughout their useful life while minimizing their emissions may be one of the most impactful ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

Leaking Annulus Sealed via Deep Penetrating Annular Surface (DPAS) BioSqueeze®

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Leaking Annulus Sealed via Deep Penetrating Annular Surface (DPAS) BioSqueeze®

BSI eliminated gas on a storage well being abandoned in Virginia by performing a Deep Penetrating Annular Surface (DPAS) BioSqueeze®

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