It’s been a problem decades in the making. Unfortunately, it will take more than a decade to solve the problem as well.

And yet the biggest problem is that there shouldn’t be a problem.

The issue is abandoned wells.

For those not familiar, when a well is abandoned by a company, usually because the company goes out of business, it creates a problem — an unplugged or uncapped well that can present a danger.

The state’s challenge is more than just a public safety one, although that aspect cannot be ignored.

It takes a bit of detective work to discover what wells are abandoned and unplugged. Getting an accurate handle on that is challenging. Sometimes, the last thing on the list for a small, dying energy company will be to inform the state. So, state regulators must first determine what wells are abandoned.

The second challenge is how to plug those abandoned wells. The problem is both one of time and money.

Currently, Wyoming has the capacity to plug about 120 wells per year. The state also has a roster of 1,200 wells that are abandoned.

Companies have been required to post bonds that would help offset an abandoned well and plug them, but the costs don’t appear to cover the actual price of getting the job done.

So there appears to be too little money and too little time for too many wells.

At an interim legislative meeting a couple of weeks ago, state Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, summed it up best: The state has known about this problem for years. The problem has continued to grow. Now, at the rate it’s going, it would take a decade to solve — and that’s assuming that no wells are abandoned within that time period.

Abandoned wells are part of doing business in an energy economy prone to market volatility.

In Gov. Matt Mead’s recently released energy plan, there’s no mention of abandoned wells or how to solve the problem. That’s understandable: Abandoned wells aren’t part of how Wyoming sustains and grows its energy future. But, they are a part of managing energy and they are the result of an energy economy. Regardless of whether they’re included, the state will have to be the entity responsible for solving the problem.

The challenge, of course, is how to solve the problem and the solution, again, is time and money.

The state will probably have to invest some of its own resources to make sure all the wells are properly plugged. The state should also examine if there are ways to speed up the process. Are there more businesses that could be developed to fill the need for reclaiming abandoned wells?

Finally, the state would do well to consider a higher bond for companies. We realize that a high bond might be a deterrent for small companies looking to get into energy development. However, it’s unfair for the state to have to foot the bill for private energy interests, and we’re confident that requiring more from a company upfront will help keep untested companies out of the market.

It’s a good thing that there are so many entrepreneurs and businesses looking to develop energy in Wyoming. We have to understand this aspect as a cost of doing business, not a rarity or anomaly.

1,200 abandoned wells is neither.

(8) comments

mbudenske
mbudenske

Environmentalists have brought forth this problem for, literally, years. At least the 27 years I've been around. Biodiversity Consversation Alliance, Powder River Resource Council, and others has filed hundreds of comments expressing just such concerns on BLM plans. All falling on deaf ears.
Oil and Gas development are thought to be good for Wyoming to the point that environmental hazards are totally ignored -- until we have more than 1,200 abandoned wells with no one left to pick up the tab -- except the taxpayers.

rigrat
rigrat

Wyoming has been used as a cash cow for over 100 years by out of state oil,gas,coal & other minerals extraction thieves who cared little for the mess they left behind. The token revenues they paid were chump changed in comparison to what it would cost to actually clean up these piles of waste.All for the almighty buck.

Pops
Pops

The greed of man has always been a problem for the well-being of the planet.

Pops
Pops

The boom was busted by naturalists long before it was a reality.

Jim in Laramiee
Jim in Laramiee

Improperly abandoned wells above horizontal fracking operations may allow fracking fluid migration into groundwater.

Robotoad
Robotoad

Here lies Earth, Mother and home to billions, killed for Capitalism. I hope we find anew planet soon, we already destroyed this one. But hey, at least Halliburton got rich off it.

Pops
Pops

Remember when the energy investors said; "We will leave the land in better shape than how we found it."

abunker
abunker

For the record, I believe this article seriously misuses the word "abandoned" when referring to wells. "Abandoned" is the general term used by industry and regulatory agencies that simply refers to wells whose use has been discontinued. Furthermore, this term can apply to any type of well, including exploratory wells which would be properly "abandoned" as part of regular operations - not because the company gave up on it. So in effect, any well that has been discontinued, even one that has been 100% properly plugged, is referred to as an "abandoned" well. One can have improperly-abandoned wells, but that is a far different distinction than the blanket stigma this article applies to the term "abandoned" wells.

In fact, if one searches for WDEQ regulations on the proper abandonment of wells, the fact sheets typically refer to the proper "plugging and abandonment" of wells. I felt that should be cleared up, so folks who might do their own research are aware of what it actually means since the use of "abandoned" in this article's context is very different from the industry/regulatory term.

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