U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 52 mins

Lawmakers frustrated by lack of orphan well action

Bob Moen, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Some Wyoming lawmakers are expressing frustration with the lack of progress by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in addressing thousands of abandoned wells.

They made their frustration public Thursday after hearing no specific plans or recommendations when Grant Black, state oil and gas supervisor, addressed the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee.

"I think we're frustrated because we didn't proceed, we didn't get to do anything today," said Rep. Tom Reeder, R-Casper.

Black apologized to the committee and said he would have specifics when it next meets in November or December.

Nonetheless, the committee voted to draft a letter to the commission asking for more detail on how it plans to deal with the problem.

The abandoned wells, also called orphan wells, primarily belonged to companies that have gone out of business, and it's up to the state to plug and reclaim them.

There are about 1,250 orphan wells in the state, most of them coal-bed methane wells in northeast Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Another 1,300 wells are likely to be added to the list, according to Black.

The backlog and expense of plugging the wells means many of them may sit for years without any effort to remove them or convert them to other uses, such as water wells. The inaction brings complaints from landowners who say the orphan wells occupy land that could be used for crops and grazing and pose a hazard.

Lawmakers have been pressing the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for months on how it plans to address the problem.

Black said the commission is looking to accelerate the process of plugging and reclaiming the wells over the next year. It is hoped that between 100 and 300 wells can be done with current resources, he said.

Some members of the committee questioned the pace of dealing with the wells and the lack of a long term solution.

Committee co-chairman Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette, said there hasn't been much planning or much done even though orphan wells have been a problem for several years.

Reeder said lawmakers were expecting that the commission would have more defined options or suggestions by now.

"We got to help the private landowners out there," Reeder said.