The Problem of Abandoned Wells in Oklahoma

In the state of Oklahoma, the oil pump jack is a well-known symbol. It brings to mind a once thriving oil drilling industry that draws oil to the surface and greenbacks to the state. On the other side of the coin, idle pumps symbolize something not so positive in the state of Oklahoma – abandoned, orphaned, and dried up wells.

Since the late 19th century, active wells brought a flood of wealth into the state. Orphaned wells have brought financial distress and sorrow. Oklahoma has certainly experienced the highs and lows of the oil jack.

Whenever a company ceases operating a well or the well runs dry, ideally the operator plugs it up with concrete to prevent leaks of oil, gas, or water. However, in times of financial distress, or just plain incompetence, these wells are not plugged up properly, which leads to problems.

The current drop in oil threatens increased well-abandonment

The shocking decrease in oil prices in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to increase the number of abandoned wells across the state of Oklahoma. Each abandoned well poses a risk. The level of that risk and its associated danger depends on the age of the well, its level of decay, and its proximity to human life. Abandoned wells can channel oil and gas to the surface, resulting in the pollution of streams and drinking water, and the potential for an explosive hazard if the gas enters into residential homes.

A recent report issued by the American Geosciences Institute reveals that non-operating wells are often abandoned without any cleanup or plug-up performed. The report also explains that plugged wells, particularly those plugged in the past with inadequate plugging procedures and materials may still leak. Leaking wells can disperse dangerous methane gas, damage the surface environment, and pollute groundwater.

Consequences of unplugged oil and gas wells

Poorly plugged or unplugged oil and gas wells can affect the following:

  • Methane emissions. A study in four states (Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio, and Utah) examined 138 abandoned wells and found that about 40% of unplugged wells emitted methane gas, compared to less than 1% of plugged wells.
  • Groundwater. Old wells can consist of deteriorated cement or well cement or casing that permits gas, oil, or salty water to enter freshwater aquafers.
  • The surface environment. Contaminated soil, small oil spills and other surface waste along with old equipment can still be present at orphaned well sites. In some poorly plugged or unplugged wells, gas, salty water, oil, or drilling mud can spill out from the well onto the ground surface or into open water in the case of offshore wells.

Abandoned well-plugging efforts

For a number of decades, states that have oil and gas wells have enhanced enforcement of cleanup and plugging requirements. For example, in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board utilizes voluntary industry financial contributions to remediate orphaned wells, which account for about 0.1% of oil and gas revenue. Since 1994, the program just mentioned has facilitated the cleanup and restoration of about 15,000 abandoned in orphaned well sites throughout Oklahoma.

Injured workers at oil and gas well sites throughout the state of Oklahoma have a right to pursue compensation for their injuries. Our Oklahoma City oilfield attorneys at Cunningham & Mears understand the various reasons why these accidents and injuries occur. We can help hold the responsible parties for your injury liable and pursue your rightful financial recovery. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced and caring attorneys, give us a call today at 405.212.9234 or complete our contact form.