Oil And Gas Well Decommissioning And Abandonment

14 March 2022
 Categories: Industrial & Manufacturing, Blog


In the oil and gas industry, wells are used to extract oil and natural gas from the ground until they are no longer profitable. If the owner is ready to shut a well down, there are some steps to take, that involve plugging and abandonment that needs to be followed. Orphan well abandonment can become a problem in some areas if the owner goes out of business and proper abandonment has not occurred.

Orphan Wells

When an oil well is no longer in use but the company that ran it no longer exists, the land may not have been dealt with properly during the closure. The first step requires plugging the well. However, if this is neglected, the well can leak methane and allow water to seep in, bringing oil with it into the groundwater around the well. 

Often orphan well abandonment happens when the well is no longer making a profit, and the company can't afford to fully close the well. The well may be shut down and capped, but no restoration to the land occurs, and steps to ensure the well doesn't leak may also get bypassed. 

Since there is no owner after the company goes out of business, responsibility for the restoration and abandonment procedures quickly fall to the wayside. At that point, no one is held liable for the well or any damage. The cost for proper P&A (plug and abandonment) of the well can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars if the preludes are left undone until the well becomes a problem, and the burden may fall to the city, state, or other jurisdiction to deal with.

Abandoned Wells 

If the P&A was done correctly on the oil well, you will not know the well was ever there. The land is restored to the condition it was in before the well was drilled in the first place. The well will also be capped and filled if necessary to ensure it is safe and sealed off completely. 

Even if all of this was done correctly, the closure could still be an orphan well abandonment if the company goes bankrupt or closes. The responsibility for the closed well could come into question. If abandonment was done properly, the chances of a problem are much lower, and the well could sit dormant forever without any interaction. 

In many cases, well abandonments are still monitored by the company that drilled them to ensure there are no leaks or problems around the oil well, but in the case of orphan well abandonment, there is no one to monitor the conditions, so if something happens deep in the well, it could be years before there are signs that will alert anyone to a problem. A company like Calgem Well Abandonment has more information.