We recently wrote about “orphan wells” or what we call the “Zombie wells” — wells that first became significant producers after the land from which they were drilled was occupied by an existing oil or gas well. As oil and gas companies moved onto these fields, a number of wells continued to produce. Most of these orphan wells are only the size of football fields, and despite the size, they have larger reserves of oil and gas. The point is that with this “Zombie” well issue, companies can take on too much risk by drilling not only near old wells, but also new wells on newly acquired territory that are often operated by the same companies.
In an article on the Center for Public Integrity’s Oil and Gas Journal website, Jessica Beeman paints a harsh picture of orphan wells and the problem in which orphan wells come into the public arena when the company drilling them is in financial trouble. In cases in which an orphan well driller can’t afford to operate, the property rights are sold on, resulting in orphan wells that have not been drilled.
When this happens, there’s a strange dynamic. In an article on our Breakthrough blog from 2012, Diane Ragsdale from the national group Our Children’s Trust wrote about the latest orphan well treatment and environmental troubles:
What does Our Children’s Trust know about orphan wells? We know that orphan wells are slipping into the national landscape. And we know that while many states do a good job keeping track of where orphan wells are, others don’t even track orphan wells. That is why it is so disturbing that Pennsylvania recently removed oversight from 83,000 orphan well wells.
Pennsylvania’s actions leave the state a lesson in dysfunction. Among our many concerns is that because of Pennsylvanians’ lucky natural opportunities, our state is playing hide the ball: a devastating impact on populations along the Susquehanna River and in Susquehanna County. … In Pennsylvania, it is now legal to ignore a court order. Wellowner evidence can be kept secret. After a judge orders you to fill up a hole, you can duck responsibility or simply slip the order by. Pennsylvania’s notification law is often interpreted to keep more wells off the board. Some of our information comes from more than 20 thousands news stories from reporter Jim Haner, who has followed this issue for nearly a decade.
We have to assume that orphan wells and orphan wells by their very nature are a frequent occurrence in developing countries. I have met people around the world and heard from others that 10-15% of the oilfields in West Africa are orphan wells. I’ve read the article about orphan wells in West Africa and Ghana which have caused some nations to have drought. For example, USAID explains the concern and the problem. Read the article here, and watch the video below: