Orphan Wells in California – An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities

Author(s): Judson Boomhower, Mikel Shybut, M. Daniel DeCillis

Release Date: January 23, 2020 | Last Updated Date: January 23, 2020

An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas Wells

Responding to a request from the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, now the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), under the California Department of Conservation, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) conducted a study entitled “Orphan Wells in California: An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas Wells.” Orphan wells are wells that have no known responsible operator or no financially viable operator capable of plugging the well and decommissioning the well’s production facilities. An active or idle well can potentially become an orphan well when deserted by a financially insolvent operator. Responsibilities for plugging and decommissioning these wells may ultimately fall to the State. As the United States’ fourth largest producer of crude oil and fifteenth of natural gas, with approximately 107,000 active and idle wells in the state, the issue of ensuring that resources exist to properly plug and decommission every well is significant for California.

The CCST report uses broad categorizations to screen for wells that may already be orphaned or that are at high risk of becoming orphan wells in the near future. The analysis finds that 5,540 wells in California may already have no viable operator, and that the potential net liability for the State appears to be about $500 million, after subtracting available bonds. An additional 69,425 economically marginal and idle wells could become orphaned in the future.

Additional Downloads

CCST One Pager: Orphan Wells in California – An Initial Assessment

Download

Press Release: Orphan Wells in California

Download

Cover Letter: Orphan Wells in California

Download

Related Publications

Biomethane in California Common Carrier Pipelines: Assessing Heating Value and Maximum Siloxane Specifications
Page from biomethane report
A study analyzing regional and gas-corporation-specific issues relating to the minimum heating value and maximum siloxane specifications.
Long-Term Viability of Underground Natural Gas Storage in California: An Independent Review of Scientific and Technical Information
Long-Term Viability of Underground Natural Gas Storage in California: An Independent Review of Scientific and Technical Information
CCST was instructed to provide an independent technical assessment in response to Governor Brown's January 2016 state of emergency proclamation regarding the Aliso Canyon gas leak.
An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California, Vol. 1 (SB4)
The California Natural Resources Agency commissioned CCST to conduct an independent scientific assessment of well stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, in California.
An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California, Vol. 2 (SB4)
The California Natural Resources Agency commissioned CCST to conduct an independent scientific assessment of well stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, in California. Part 2 of the report.
An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California, Vol. 3 (SB4)
The California Natural Resources Agency commissioned CCST to conduct an independent scientific assessment of well stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, in California. Part 3 of the report.