Abandoned oil, gas wells major problem
The existence of nearly 2,000 new “orphan” oil and gas wells since the oil price collapse four years ago continues to be a major problem for Louisiana state government. As the name implies, those are abandoned wells created after hard times in the industry.
Patrick Courreges, communications director for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), told The Advocate, “We lost a lot of ground from 2014 on. It got real rough.”
“Not all the folks we orphan are bad operators and operate in bad faith,” he said. “A lot of them are good people who try to work within the rules and they just went broke.”
Courreges said Louisiana began its Oilfield Site Restoration program in 1993 in response to the 1980s oil bust. However, funding the necessary work continues to be difficult because of the more recent decline in oil prices.
Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network said, “We definitely know there are wells that are causing severe environmental impacts that there aren’t enough resources to deal with. They’re leaking, they’re spilling, and they’re emitting.”
When the oil and gas operators fall out of compliance with state rules, DNR levies fines and suspends their production until they correct the problems. If they don’t comply or respond, the state “orphans” those wells and bans the company and its officers from operating in the state.
A state audit issued in 2014 found that a fee on oil and gas operators that funds restoration efforts to plug abandoned wells was insufficient to meet the needs. Fees have been increased and other changes have been made since then, but the number of those wells keeps increasing.
From 2014 to 2017, the state plugged an average of 105-orphaned wells per year, but during that same period the state added 413 newly orphaned wells per year. Finding contractors to plug the wells has also been difficult.
The major problem is finding the funds to plug the most environmentally unsafe wells. This orphaned well crisis is another result of the Legislature’s failure to enact tougher regulations on the oil and gas industry and to reform the state’s budget and tax systems.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, retired editor Jim Beam and retired staff writer Mike Jones.
Section 28 Field, St. Martin Parish. This bid project consisted of the plugging and abandonment of 30 orphan wells and the removal of 3 facilities completed April 16, 2010.