In 2016, the BIA identified over 1,600 abandoned wells on the Osage Minerals Estate. The council contacted its Congressional Delegation and the House of Representatives Appropriations Committees for funding to plug the wells.
Councilman Paul Revard said wells are left abandoned for many reasons, lessees going out of business, lessees neglecting the well, or a lessees’ death could leave the well out of operation.
“Some of these wells are leaking oil and/or saltwater onto the ground, contaminating the soil and threatening wildlife and could be harmful to humans,” Revard said. “Some are venting natural gas (methane) into the atmosphere adversely affecting the quality of the air we breathe.”
According to Revard, the BIA did not have the funds available until after Congress appropriated $3 million for the well-plugging efforts in the 2018 fiscal year.
The council has used almost 67 percent of the $3 million appropriation to plug 40 of the 1,600 orphan wells, with 13 additional wells up for consideration. Revard said the minerals council plans to use what is left of the money this year.
“The average cost to plug a typical abandoned well within our mineral estate has averaged between $40,000 to $70,000 per well,” he said.
Revard added the wells they have plugged have unusual conditions like collapsed casing, junk in the well, and improper plugging such as with tree stumps and mud. According to Councilwoman Susan Forman, more abandoned wells have been discovered during fieldwork and some wells have been found to be capable of production.
“These wells are left as open holes or carelessly closed off and pose a threat to human safety, animal life and the environment, and need to be sealed or plugged properly,” Forman said.
Revard explained a lot of work goes into plugging a well. A field crew must first re-establish a road to the well, rig up a “workover rig” over the abandoned well, and determine the depth of the well. Then the crew must pump cement into the punctured producing zones and any casing leaks identified, then the well casing is cut off below plow depth, capped and covered with native soil.
“The objective is protecting the freshwater zone(s) and zones capable of producing oil and gas in the immediate area,” said Revard.
In March, the council passed a motion to request an additional $10 million in federal funding to continue with the well-plugging efforts.
“We had great meetings with Congressman Tom Cole who is on the House Appropriations Committee and our representative Congressman Frank Lucas. We’ve also received a lot of support from Senator Inhofe and Senator Lankford,” Revard said.
Appropriations Committee released its Fiscal Year 2022 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Funding Bill the council is hoping to benefit from, Revard said.
“The bill includes another $1 million in funding that we requested as well as a new grant program to clean up impacts from energy development,” he said.
Revard said the responsibility of well-plugging falls on the lessee who abandoned the well under the governance of the BIA. However, the BIA does not accept the responsibility of plugging the wells.
“They have referred to these abandoned wells as ‘your wells,’ meaning the Osage Minerals Council. I couldn’t disagree more with this statement.”