Plugging of Orphaned & Abandoned Gas Wells Needed

by admin on September 10, 2022

Map from WV Geological & Economic Survey

Proper reclamation needed to plug gas wells in Mon County

Article by Betsy Lawson, Morgantown Dominion Post, 9/3/22

WEST OF MORGANTOWN, WHERE I LIVE, THE VISIBLE REMAINS OF COAL AND GAS REMOVAL ARE EVERYWHERE. Abandoned strip mines, acid mine drainage and an orphaned gas well are all visible from my house. This is because, in West Virginia, it is often much cheaper to forfeit the bond money posted at the start than to pay for proper reclamation or to plug a well.

West Virginia has over 6,500 orphaned oil and gas wells. The one in my yard was plugged in 1912 but in 1950 it was perforated about 600 feet down to vent methane from a coal seam — and it is still venting methane. Many wells were never plugged at all and leak not just methane but other toxic chemicals that pollute our air and groundwater. Methane in the atmosphere traps sunlight, making the planet warmer and it is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The orphaned gas well on my property was assessed by an inspector from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, who estimated that plugging this well would cost $100,000. The WVDEP has an annual budget to plug 24 wells per year. With 6,500 orphaned wells in West Virginia, it would take the state around 270 years to plug existing orphaned wells! This is not acceptable and the economic liability should not fall to the taxpayers.

Last November, the U.S. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Thankfully, both of our senators and Congressman McKinley voted for it. The U.S. Department of the Interior granted up to $142 million to West Virginia to plug, remediate and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells across the state. This will help clean up our state and provide good jobs (with our own tax dollars). But our state Legislature must pass legislation to prevent more wells from becoming orphaned in the future, or the problem will never get better, no matter how many taxpayer dollars we throw at it.

Last January, Delegate Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) introduced House Bill 4054: The Orphan Well Prevention Act. It needs to be reintroduced in 2023. This bill would require drilling companies to pay enough money up front to fully cover the cost of plugging their wells. Right now drillers pay $5,000 as bond for a single well. Who wouldn’t forfeit $5,000 rather than pay $100,000 to plug a well?

We must prevent wells from becoming orphaned in the first place by passing the Orphan Well Prevention Act, which requires companies to deposit funds for plugging their wells up front before they begin drilling. It’s time to prevent oil and gas com- panies from shifting their eco- nomic burden onto West Virginia taxpayers should they abandon or orphan their wells. Plugging orphaned wells will be a win for property rights, our economy, the environment and public health.

BETSY LAWSON wrote this essay on behalf of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. She lives in Morgantown. For more information and to take action on this issue visit: West Virginia Environmental Council

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